Jared Diamond is diluting my brand

I was recently interviewed by a journalist working on a piece on The Daniel Wemp affair for an article in Science that will appear in the next couple of weeks, apparently, and that interview got me thinking about the ‘Is Jared Diamond An Anthropologist’ issue. This topic has come up on the blog from time to time, and after some reflection it seems to me that there are more and less interesting ways to answer this question.

One uninteresting question to me is the issue of institutional license. There is clearly a sliding scale of institutional license from paradigmatic anthropologists (Ph.D.s in anthropology in tenured positions of anthropology training more Ph.D.s in anthropology, conducting anthropological work and publishing in scholarly anthropological journals) to people who ‘think anthropologically’ but might not have a degree in anthropology. I suppose some people would take issue with Diamond’s representation of himself (or more accurately, the press’s representation of him) as an anthropologist because he lack the appropriate institutional licensing.

But what truly bothers me about the fact that Diamond’s ‘vengeance’ piece ran under the banner ‘annals of anthropology’ is not that Diamond doesn’t have Official Certification in our field. Rather, what bothers me is that this piece and the affair it provoked sends an off-brand message to our audience.

I think of anthropology as a discipline in the broadest sense of the word — a way of thinking about the world, a disposition about how to study it, a certain set of texts which provide a genealogy and another which provide a taken-for-granted reservoir of examples about how different societies have organized themselves. This discipline is clearly connected to academic anthropology, but at the same time it also attaches to a variety of other institutional sites that include, yes, even the History Channel.

I don’t mind when people without degrees do anthropology — the more the merrier, in fact. But I do mind when our consumers get the wrong message about our brand.

For instance, I think consumers learn from Diamond’s work that anthropologists study ancient/primitive people. As a result, I have had people ask me if I, as an anthropologist, get upset when non-anthropologists study Papua New Guinea (presumably because it is ‘primitive’). What’s more, I have had other anthropologists chastise me, a Melanesianist, for perpetuating this message. It puts me in a double bind.

In contrast, I want to send non-anthropologists the message that anthropologists study culture and the power if has in shaping human social life. Saying that anthropologists are only allowed to study ‘primitives’ is like saying linguists are only allowed to study French, biologists are only allowed to study mammals, and chemists are only allowed to study tungsten. It is to mistake the topic for an approach. The fact that Diamond prefers biological and geographical explanations almost to the exclusion of cultural explanations doesn’t help.

Consumers learn from the Wemp affair that anthropologists are unethical and lousy at getting the facts right. In contrast, I want to send them the message that anthropologists are responsible stewards of the information that people share with us, and that we get the facts right.

Consumers learn from the Wemp affair that anthropologists like Diamond can be unethical and inaccurate because they are powerful white people who study powerless brown people. This imagination of the anthropological field situation leads to the assumption that anthropologists either help powerless brown people or harm them, and each of these options can be negatively or positively morally charged: help them (positive: collaboration and empowerment, negative: colonial paternalism), hurt them (positive: exterminate/educate the brutes in the name of civilization, negative: colonial predation).

In contrast, I want people to recognize that there is no necessary connection between race and power in anthropological fieldwork: powerful brown people could be studying helpless white people, powerless brown people could be studying powerful white people, etc. (you can make a chart to get all the permutations if you want and I bet I can find examples of every combination in the ethnographic record, even if some are much rarer than others). Just as anthropologist study all sorts of people, the dynamics of that study in the field are also varied.

Of course, not everyone may agree with me in my sense of what the discipline of anthropology is and some may have thicker or thinner senses of how exhaustive our disciplinary commitments will be. There may be different standards for different sorts of scholarly and nonscholarly genres, and of course I’m sure there are some anthropologists who behave so badly that they have done a much more effective job of trashing our brand than Diamond. But this is just to say that good work is good work, bad work is bad work, and people will always quibble about the details.

Beyond issue of institutional licensing or theological disputes about what what, theoretically, counts as ‘anthropology’ what worries me about coverage of the Daniel Wemp affair is what our audience will think of us. When I got off the plane in Papua New Guinea later this month, will people be unwilling to talk to me because they’ve heard about the Jared Diamond affair? Will they spend their time explaining to me that they are not ‘primitive’? While scholarly and legal issues will be raised in the course of the Wemp affair, I think it also behooves anthropologists to think about the fallout this event will have for how we are perceived, and the sort of messages we want to send about ourselves to our audience. Using the idiom of brand, as I have somewhat jokingly used it here, helps us realize that an important part of this debate is associations and experiences that people have of us.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

28 thoughts on “Jared Diamond is diluting my brand

  1. Who exactly are these wonderous, non-anthropologist “consumers” of anthropology and how precisely are they “consuming” anthropology? I’d always figured the poor souls paying hard cash for the latest books in the Anthropology section of bookstores were… well, pretty much anthropologists.

  2. The people who read Diamond’s article in the New Yorker. Or watched his Nat Geo special. Or bought any of his best selling books.

  3. You think they’re “our audience”? I reckon the chances are slight of anyone in this group ever buying a book, reading an article or attending a conference paper by you, me, or anyone I’ve read on this blog. If anthropology has a non-anthropologist audience, that ain’t it.

  4. I have to agree with Sam. I think the people reading Diamond are not reading any anthropologists. Let’s look, for example, at the sales of Guns, Germs, and Steel: #754 on Amazon.com. Anthropological response in the form of Yali’s Question: #687,944. On Amazon.ca, the figures are even more drastic: #407 versus #1,010,435.

    When I talk to people and say that I am an anthropologist, what that usually translates to for them is archaeology, or occasionally, paleontology. The only other times that someone has known an anthropologist, they have been thinking of Margaret Mead (which is maybe the last public intellectual anthropology had?; I’m too young to know).

    Do I think that Diamond leads people to think a certain away about this field called anthropology? Yes. Do I think they really care or think hard about it? No.

    Mi tasol.

  5. I’m not sure the “we don’t have an audience” argument is the most important one here. If anthropology has relevance to public issues, and if it has potential to answer people’s questions and/or needs, then how anthropology is defined for the public matters because it affects how good anthropology will be received in a variety of non-specialist contexts.

    Despite the drama of the numbers that Jared Diamond commands, there are important ways in which some anthropologists engage in public discourse that is not defined by the popular appeal of their work. Some anthropologists do research on indigenous land claims, for example, and testify in courts. The “brand” of anthro matters for them because how their claims are received by non-specialists has a real and lasting material impact on the communities they serve. In a similar vein, a former professor of mine is working on a project helping to bridge the gap in Canadian rural development policy between grass-roots research and government. Work like that may not have a huge audience as defined by amazon, but has the potential to affect a lot of lives in very direct ways. Such a project requires collaboration with a number of non-specialists, and if anthropologists get broadly branded as unethical and inaccurate, that could certainly have a bad effect on it.

    Anthropology (or any kind of research) doesn’t have to be popular to be publicly engaged, and it doesn’t have to be broadly read to have a large impact. I think we should absolutely be concerned about the kind of brand-dilution that Rex is talking about because there are any number of publicly engaged (if not wildly popular) projects that we can pursue, and it will be infinitely easier to pursue them if we don’t have to start each one with a defence of a discipline that has been branded by Diamond’s shortcomings.

  6. I think Sam almost gets my point, but not quite. My argument is not that people who read Diamond also read work by institutionally licensed anthroplogists. On the contrary, my point is that they don’t.

    My argument is that when Diamond brands himself as an anthropologist (or the idea is somehow created in the minds of his readers that he is, however that happens) — they become ‘our’ audience because they believe themselves to be addressed by us.

    This is a different question from whether we have other important ways of shaping public opinion besides writing popular books, whether we should ‘blame the victim’ and say that we are remiss for allowing him to so easily monopolize public attention, or whether or not TC cares about the entire thing (apparently he doesn’t… or only enough to tell us he doesn’t…?)

    We may not care about that Diamond is beach reading for the New Yorker set, but one of my main points in discussing this issue is that we can no longer assume the various domains we work in are not connected. Perceptions of anthropologists as expert witnesses (to give an example from Carmen’s comment) will not be untarnished forever in a world where ‘everyone knows’ that ‘famous anthropologists’ like Diamond can get stuff wrong.

  7. Yes, unfortunately, in some ways, Diamond is very influential among some people. And i’m acquainted with some of them. These are reasonably well-educated people, often of the “liberal” persuasion, who “mean well”. And they really think Diamond is an anthropologist. They also tend to think what he says is gospel truth. I’ve tried to argue with some of them, pointing out that in general, that “real” anthropologists have a “beef” with a lot of what he says, for a lot of reason. Problem is, I’m not a professional, but for a number of reasons, I’ve come across his work in various contexts, and I’ve spotted what I think are probably questionable things about it.
    Anne G

  8. Anthropologists as expert witnesses don’t need Diamond to help them tarnish the image of course, since they have proven adept at that themselves in some cases – and indeed have made not dissimilar mistakes of misattribution in complex contexts.Think of the Hindmarsh Island affair. It is kind of interesting that Diamond’s journalism and court cases both remove the protection that subject anonymity provides in academic work.

  9. Sorry, that fragment after the dash should really be in brackets – lest anyone think Hindmarsh was about misattribution.

  10. I actually emailed with the AAA’s press office once about this, asking why they did not spend time protecting the ‘brand’ from interlopers who get called anthropologists all the time but are not:

    Clotaire Rapaille (has a degree, but iffy in terms of everything else)
    Paco Underhill (Urban geographer)
    Marion Nestle (Public Food and Health)
    and of course, Jared Diamond.

    All of these people have interesting things to say, and I do not want to deny them the opportunity to say them, but why must the NY Times call on Rapaille every single time they want an anthropologist to quote on something? He’s a statistical outlier in a field that would be tough to represent as unified on the simplest of topics.

    Underhill is a neat guy, but his methodology avoids ANY incorporation or reflection upon the issues of power and ethics embedded within the act of observation that have consumed ethnography for the past 30 odd years.

    Similarly, because Nestle accompanies a journalist to a grocery store all of a sudden she is an anthropologist? This is one reason I find myself more and more using the term ethnographer – at least it gives me an opening to explain what I do.

  11. I am preparing a longish blog article on the Jared Diamond affair, but I do want to bring up something now that will be more fully elaborated there. I think the best way to understand Diamond’s article is not within the context of anthropology, even though it is labeled as such. It is much more useful to see it as an exercise in sociobiology, a discipline that Diamond is not generally associated with. He is generally seen as a biologist with a focus on ornithology written in specialist journals. Almost, as an avocation, he writes these books and articles that appeal to the average middle-class PBS viewer, the New Yorker subscriber, etc. In this medium, he treats homo sapiens as determined by his/her environment. Despite the focus on “nurture” versus “nature”, he retains a sympathy for the *essential* drives of human beings that are treated in pop literature like “The Naked Ape”. As I say, I will develop this at greater length in my blog posting but here’s a reminder of where Diamond came from ideologically:

    The Independent (London)
    June 16, 1991, Sunday

    BOOK REVIEW / Pre-programmed folly of the naked ape; ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee’ – Jared Diamond: Radius, 16.99 pounds


    MOST of us have at one time experienced an uneasy ”Why them?” when gawking at the apes we keep locked up in cages in our zoos. Why should they be inside, and we not? According to an American psychologist, Jared Diamond, we have good reason for our unease. A zoologist from outer space, he claims, would take one look and classify us immediately as what we are: a third species of chimpanzee that has little hair and walks upright.

    In The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, Diamond tries to develop the facts and the implications of our genetic make-up. Almost 99 per cent of our 100,000 or so genes are identical to those of our two closest relatives, the pygmy chimp of Zaire and the common chimp, which inhabits the rest of tropical Africa. With so much in common, he wonders, how did we become so different? And are the differences real or apparent?

    The common view is that human beings differ from their animal predecessors in two important ways. On the positive side there is our language, art, technology and agriculture. All these seem to be specific to our species. On the darker side, there is our weakness for xenophobic mass murder, our destructive assault on the environment and our self-destructive abuse of toxic chemicals. Surely these are unique to our species? Not so, says Diamond.

    The thesis of this disturbing book is that there are obvious animal precursors for all our apparently distinctive traits, as we might expect, given that genetically we branched off from the chimps only 6 million to 8 million years ago, and culturally as recently as 40,000 years ago. The fact that there have been precursors to some of our more positive traits might bruise our egos a bit, but Diamond sees a more sinister significance in the true history of our more destructive capacities.

    The world is in a mess of our own (inherited) making, he says. We are destroying each other, other species and the environment at such a pace that it is possible we ”may already be among the living dead, that our future is as bleak as that of the other two chimpanzees”. This is painful material, he admits, but we ignore our genetic history at our peril.

  12. Yeah but …

    Doesn’t the private property presumption in the “joking idiom” of anthropology-as-branded-product FAIL the open source ideal of knowledge-as-commonwealth?

    What kind of an “us” doesn’t welcome differences of opinion as the constitutive stuff of conversation (oh teachable moment, where is thy sting?), preferring instead to wring pansied hands over the scandal of “they” trying to pirate from the musty coffers of “our” intellectual capital inheritance?

    If anthropology really is a “brand” then the smart money is on The Money’s control of The Brand.

  13. So, my understanding is that opensource is an idea that has grown up around the practice of collaborative production of software. Much of this software is branded. Branding does not disallow people from participating collaboratively with opensource projects, but rather provides quick and easy ways for both producers and consumers to identify different projects within the opensource ideaspace.

    So, when Rex identifies anthropology as ” a discipline in the broadest sense of the word—a way of thinking about the world, a disposition about how to study it, a certain set of texts which provide a genealogy and another which provide a taken-for-granted reservoir of examples about how different societies have organized themselves.”, this seems to me to fit exactly with how branding works in the context of open source. There is certainly room for differences of opinion in that brand, but at some point it makes sense to say “this isn’t anthropology, and if we say it is, the word anthropology won’t really signify anything anymore”.

  14. Tim has a good point (which I think I made in the post itself): anthropologists don’t need help ruining their image! But I would insist that even if we can stuff it up, we have a right to stuff it up ourselves.

    Prudence I’m not sure that you and I agree on what the definition of ‘opensource’ is. For me (and briefly) open source is a cultural formation that began in computer programming which believed in the free flow of information, particularly source code.

    Anthropology is not a discipline that is committed to open source principles. We do not publish our fieldnotes raw or our post recordings of our interviews to our websites. We do not do this because our informants have a right to privacy. On the whole, we do not take our field data and work them over in the course of commons-based peer production.

    Anthropology should, I believe, be committed to open access principles — that is to say, the right of public to know and the author to be known. This includes proper attribution of articles to their authors, opposing plagiarism, and so forth. So identity concerns and ‘branding’ are relevant here at some level.

    The irony of invoking open source communities as an example of a community opposed to branding is that these communities have been part of a decades-long struggle to take control of the brand of ‘hacker’, seeking to overturn myths of the illegality of open source programming, and to undo stereotypes of obsessive, asocial men staring at computer (TOTALLY different, btw, than academics 🙂 This has included exercises like attempted to rebrand illegal hacking as ‘cracking’ in order to morally valorize the image of the ‘hacker’

    I think the Closed Source, Micro$oft, RIAA solution to Diamond’s problem would be to throw lawyers at him or start running adds in movie theaters with scary music and captions that say “You wouldn’t steal a CD…. don’t read Jared Diamond”. But that’s not what I’m doing. Neither am I dissing and dismissing Diamond because he is not institutionally licensed by an anthropology department. So I’m not insisting that he be AnthroVista Compatible either. I’m not suggesting that we raise any we/they barriers at all.

    I don’t care _who_ does anthropology. I would like _lots_ of people to do it and grow the community — the more pirating of my intellectual inheritance the better! The point is that Diamond _isn’t_ taking up that inheritance, _isn’t_ using core anthropological concepts and practices, and I want him to.

  15. I find this debate very interesting.

    I admit that I have read three of Jared Diamond’s books–The Third Chimpanzee, Guns and Collapse. Originally, I started reading them due to a suggestion from a friend mainly because of some of the linguistics content. Also I have a degree in Anthropology — just a bachelors and wanted see how some of his ideas matched up with my background. Currently I am a software developer so I have never claimed to have anything more than an interest in Anthropology.

    While I liked his books I did not blindly agree with everything that he wrote. (btw: I don’t consider him a great writer. Guns was very redundant so much so that I think it wasn’t much more than an extension of The Third Chimpanzee.) And I did do some due diligence to try to find criticism of him but did not find anything substantial. I admit that I was lazy and most of my searches were on the web. Also I looked at reviews Amazon.

    I would argue that people that read his books are far from average. I don’t think average people really read at all. I only know one other person who actually has read any of his books.

    The lawsuit is definitely very disturbing. From my point of view it has put everything that I have read from him as suspicious. I already consider myself something of a skeptic anyway and it just makes me think that there is very little media out there that is trustworthy. Even as I read Shearer’s article I have some suspicion whether it is actually credible due to my diminishing level of trust. For me this time has become not the age of information but the age of misinformation.

    Having said all that, I am wondering outside of a university setting how I could have become more versed in the discipline of Anthropology such that I could have discerned the difference between your brand and Diamond’s.

  16. JRK: If you’re interested, I’d recommend The Human Web by Robert and William McNeill — it is the single volume history of the world that Guns, Germs, and Steel was trying to be. To get a sense of how anthropologists write and think, I’d recommend Guests of the Sheikh by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, which is really readable and fun.

  17. This is a stale thread and the action is heating up elsewhere, but

    “On the whole, we do not take our field data and work them over in the course of commons-based peer production.”

    What justifies denying field informants peer status in “our” endeavor?

    Erasing the line of misrecognition that separates subjects from objects in the intellectual commonwealth we know and love as anthropology opens the door to an inclusive conversation capable of resisting capitalist enclosure within the fences of canons and credentials.

    It doesn’t belong to me, I belong to it. The same goes for you,

  18. Prudence writes “What justifies denying field informants peer status in “our” endeavor?”

    My answer is, obviously: nothing. If people want to do collaborative fieldwork with their informants, then that is fine — in fact it is a growing trend in anthropology. I can even imagine a situation where people would _not_ want to participate in writing up ethnographic accounts of themselves, but _would_ give permission to allow others to do so collectively and publicly.

    But for the vast majority of fieldwork, I reckon, people are happy to help, but don’t want their names on the Internet. They want to be anonymous, and we have to respect that. This is why we protect their personal information. It is a choice ‘they’ make when ‘we’ present them with options and explain what our research is about and what their entitlemetns are. I don’t think it takes a genius to figure this out.

  19. This is well put Rex. Anyway, I am going to fade out with the thought that its kind of ominous how the overall outcome of contemporary struggles with “anthropological ethics” seems to be an intensified enclosure of culture within private-property forms of capitalist production. Informed consent is basically a free-market contract model for the legitimate expropriation of personal facts. And a condition of possibility for imagining anthropology as “my brand” is the public name of anthropology as exclusive property, in the zero-sum sense where other people’s interpretations become policeable violations of property rights. I wonder how the scale-making moves connecting these two (field-and-study) levels of imagining anthropology-as-enterprise might foreclose other possible frames for understanding the values involved in anthropological production?

  20. Ethically speaking, Rex is spot on. Before we reveal personal information or name names, we need to ask permission. On or off the record, the choice belongs to those whose words or ideas we borrow. There is, however, also a methodological issue here. At one extreme the anonymity of what Geertz calls “African transparencies” radically dilutes the thick description on which persuasive interpretation depends. At the other, telling all may be telling too much, obscuring the explanation with irrelevant detail. And neither ethical nor methodological issues lend themselves to simplistic black-or-white decision-making. There are always circumstances that require consideration.

  21. I don’t really see the problem. We’ve used Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” as compulsory literature in one course, and as recommended reading in other courses. It fits perfectly into anthropological world-systems theory, like that used by Arjun Appadurai and Jonathan Friedman. Whether to call Diamond an anthropologist or not doesn’t seem that big of an issue. If his works can be used by anthropologists and mainstream readers alike, I can’t see any “diluting” anywhere. On the contrary… It’s good advertisement for (social) anthropology (that uses Grand Theories).

  22. Robin Öberg wrote: We’ve used Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” as compulsory literature in one course, and as recommended reading in other courses.

    At the 2006 American Anthropological Association Meetings in San Jose, Patricia McAnany and Norm Yoffee brought together scholars, cultural anthropology, archaeologists, and historians who carefully took apart each and every case of ecocide mentioned by Diamond in collapse. They pointed out using data, that not only did Diamond get the details wrong [on Easter Island (Terry Hunt), the Maya (Pat. McAnany), the Greenland Vikings (John Steinberg), Mesopotamia (Yoffee), the Southwest (Wilcox)] but also the process. They cut off the five legs of the beast that Diamond put forward in “Collapse” when he egregiously misused data, favored some very questionable types (Heyerdahl), and ignored other data sets. However, the beast still lives and is loose.

    I study collapse and know that systems undergoing “collapse” go through processes far most complex than the simplistic notions that Diamond has presented. And again, to be simple is not wrong. To be “simple and wrong” is wrong. Contact McAnany or Yoffee or any of the people I mentioned and they would be glad to tell you why Diamond got it consistently wrong as he strove to fit and massage the data into his pre-determined ideas of native peoples committing ecocide. He looks at our consumption patterns and assumes that all humanity would have such behaviors hard-wired into them. But economic behaviors, availability of resources, and consumption patterns have been altered over the past 200 years. NOW we are “become death,” except as the “devourers of the world.” But the evidence from the past does not suggest this.

  23. Sorry, to keep my last post on topic. It does matter when the person who do such shoddy and dismal workwho calls themselves or are perceived as “anthropologists.” If they restricted themselves within the academy, they would be subject to censure or ostracization.

    But Diamond is not content with the academy, which is what makes his message and his “branding” problematic and his message impossible to peer-review. When contrary to recent findings (Hunt 2007), his work allows lay people to blame the Easter Islanders for the ecological destruction of Rapa Nui, ignoring later climate change, European induced diseases and slavery, that is a problem. Even more so, when I am confidently assured by my lawyer or investment banker friends that this was the latest anthropological truth from the greatest Anthropologist out there.

    Hunt, Terry
    2007 Rethinking Easter Island’s ecological catastrophe. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 485-502

  24. Rather than quibble that Jared Diamond was doing anthropology without having the presumed credentials, the focus should be on what he actually has promoted in his books: a kind of clever environmental determinism that is seductive to the public, but, on close examination, fraught with misconception and oversimplification.

    When the UCLA Geography Department invited him into their ranks several years ago as professor, they surely knew about his problematic standing with scholars. But professors in that unit–which has had over the years a number of shameless self-promoters–were themselves seduced by the fact that he was such a well-known author. After all, in Los Angeles celebrity is what counts! Now the chickens have come home to roost. They have an author on their hands, not a scholar and, though mortified, they are feckless in dealing with Diamond’s
    prevarications on the New Yorker piece.

  25. Thanks Bouteloup. That is the point, not whether Diamond has the credentials, but that he is “too clever by half” and pushes a simplistic and ultimately dangerous “story” on a lay public that would have access to alternative data or interpretations.

    Other uncredentialed people have ventured into anthropology successfully. Barbara Ehrenreich is not an anthropologist nor is Ted Conover. But their ethnography-like works (Nickel-and-Dimed and Coyotes) are excellent and are regarded as good contributions and texts for anthropology.

  26. It hardly seems fair to blame Diamond for writing a book published in 2005 that didn’t anticipate the results of anthropological research published in 2007.

    Even so, Hunt’s 2007 article suggests that Rapa Nui suffered an ecological catastrophe at the hands of its Polynesian colonizers, albeit by introducing rats to the ecosystem rather than overpopulation and traditional deforestation.

  27. Jake, I beg to differ but the research was there. As academics, we don’t have to wait for an article to come out in print. We usually know what people in our disciplines are working on, papers are presented at conferences, and working groups discuss latest findings. By the time the J. Arch. Sci. would get the article, people working on Rapa Nui would know. Terry Hunt didn’t suddenly think of the project after 2005.

    Furthermore, what Hunt’s work actually states is that when the Europeans got there, the Rapa Nui people, rats, and Rapa Nui had reached an equilibrium, in which the islanders were managing the ecosystem for their own purposes. As Hunt points out, the accounts of the early European explorers suggest managed productivity, not ecocide, rodent-caused or otherwise. Between 900-1200 C.E. the introduced rodent population underwent a population rise and then a leveling out. When the humans got there for colonization in 1200, they were working with an (inadvertently) modified landscape but they went ahead and managed it just the same. There was no Rapa Nuian musing over the last tree as he heaved his stone axe, his/her eyes a-gleam with ecocidal mania.

    Diamond chooses to ignore research done over the past two decades and uses Heyerdahl as a primary source. Heyerdahl!!! Come on!!!!

    But Rapa Nui is only one of the many cases that Diamond gets wrong. The re-assessment of the Maya collapse has been around since the 1990s as has that of the Mesopotamian states. But Diamond doesn’t care. He is a successful macro-historian with the ear of the public. Why should concerns of the pointy-headed academics matter, even if he does end up blaming the have-nots for their condition while absolving the haves for their position: “it was just geography, stupid.” As he famously said in a response to his critics in the NY Times, local and regional details could be BUT are not as important as his deterministic factors (accidents of geography — the availability of raw materials and crops, a hospitable climate, accessible trade routes and even the cartographical shapes of continents). He also said once that any theoretical explanation that can explain 70% of the data is good enough for him. How’s Ptolemaic geometry working out for us now?

    As his stubborn response to the very pertinent issues brought up by his New Yorker debacle shows, he is rather arrogant and sees anthropologists as irritants, and details as inconsequential.


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