Jared Diamond’s ‘Light Elephants’ and Dark Revenge In The New Yorker: The Problems of Amateur Anthropology


p align=”center”>The Pig in a Garden: Jared Diamond and The New Yorker series:

StinkyJournalism.org and SavageMinds.org are simultaneously cross-publishing on both web sites, a series of essays on the controversy surrounding Jared Diamond’s New Yorker article, “Annals of Anthropology: Vengeance is Ours.” The essay series titled,The Pig in a Garden: Jared Diamond and The New Yorker, is written by ethics scholars in the fields of anthropology and communications, as well as journalists, environmental scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists et al., and edited by Rhonda Roland Shearer, Alan Bisbort and Sam Eifling. Each contributor’s mission was simple: To examine Jared Diamond’s article, and The New Yorker’s decision to publish it, through the lens of their own discipline. We think you will agree that these issues will not soon be put to rest. As Nancy Sullivan writes in her contribution, part of the reason for this series is to reclaim some of the ground among general readers lost to “experts” like Jared Diamond. With this series, StinkyJournalism.org and SavageMinds.org seek to capture that wider general audience for writings about anthropology.

This piece is by Nancy Sullivan, Director, Nancy Sullivan and Associates, Ltd. She does anthropological consulting, qualitative research, survey design, report writing, training and workshop design for a range of private and public entities. The field teams consist of DWU graduates from the Department of PNG Studies (former students of ethnographic research methods]. In 2009, she served as Team Leader, Karawari Cave Arts Expedition, The National Geographic Society Magazine, March 2-28, covering the cave art project National Sullivan & Associates have been conducting since 2007 with National Geographic and Guggenheim support.

I am an anthropologist who has lived in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for more than twenty years, most of these in the highlands. In 2002 I also taught a course in PNG war and peace, so the concept of Melanesian vengeance is not unfamiliar to me, either personally or academically. My understanding of Jared Diamond’s point in the piece “Vengeance is Ours” is that revenge is natural. It’s a Hobbesian message for the twenty-first century: humans are hardwired for revenge and require a social contract to prevent madness and mayhem. Savages are rational, because they also have rules to obey and urges to forfeit for the greater peace. But because tribes are such small units, Diamond seems to say, their rules lie closer to the human impulse.

Apparently the Melanesian social contract is somewhat thinner than the European one, superficially veiling the urge for revenge and permitting its satisfaction in controlled acts of  “payback.” People like Daniel Wemp, for example, live but a step away from the pre-Leviathan Eden, where all men were islands and under no social constraints. Diamond invites us to see the difference between Wemp’s smug vendetta and the lifelong frustrations of Diamond’s father-in-law, who could never experience revenge for his family’s murder during the Holocaust. The modern state fully thwarts our urge, whereas tribal edicts do not — presumably even tribal societies within the state of Papua New Guinea. In an interesting anti-sentimental twist, Diamond also tells us that tribal people are ultimately happy to submit to a state apparatus, if only to be freed at last from the cycle of violence and payback.

If indeed Papua New Guineans are so eager to throw off the shackles of tribalism and finally live in peace, Daniel Wemp can now thank Diamond and The New Yorker for alerting the state apparatus of his crimes.

No one will ever find ‘Daniel Wemp’

I want to make three points here. First, that Diamond has seriously endangered this subject, whom he identifies by real first and last name, by claiming his responsibility for a series of murders. Beyond the Nipa tribe and the Southern Highlands Province is a thoroughly modern state of Papua New Guinea for which these acts constitute murder.

The second point follows from the first. The field of anthropology has a code of ethics that includes “informed consent” — a not-incidental notion that if you use people for research purposes, they must know the risk involved, the nature of the project, how the data will be used, and how it will be publicized. In short, they should have the choice to remain anonymous. In a pinch, when these conditions cannot be met, you have to mask the subject’s identity.

But we know that Diamond’s piece does not actually come from the “annals of anthropology,” or at least not professional anthropology. That field has a distinct method, something called the ethnographic method, coined by Brownislaw Malinowski in New Guinea ninety years ago to prod the discipline out of the armchair and into the field for a minimally required period of time.

Informed consent has been an important topic to anthropology since Margaret Mead sat down for a chat with young women in Samoa (and Derek Freeman told us she got it wrong). But none of us would be discussing this now if it hadn’t been for Mead’s savvy decision to publish her first book with William Morrow, for a general audience, and thus bring cultural relativism into living rooms across the English-speaking world. Americans were especially blessed by her Redbook columns, where we learned that childhood, adolescence and even gender roles are not, as had been imagined, biologically determined. It was Mead who first taught the wider public about the tenaciousness of culture.

But it is our fault as anthropologists that no one has picked up the ball Mead dropped, and produced enough popular cultural anthropology in recent years. Jared Diamond is just filling the vacuum we left. No one seems to realize anymore that the field is not about making generalizations about humankind, but about describing the defining differences between cultures. It is not about expanding biological knowledge, nor defining the line between culture and biology, but about understanding the diversities of what is manmade, what is not natural after all. Anthropology teaches us about the power of world views.

Diamond has been fantastically successful at bypassing particulars for the single European worldview of history, a worldview that professes to treat all societies with equal respect, but which, in fact, takes a remarkably Victorian approach to culture. Much like armchair anthropology, Diamond’s anecdotal evidence of other peoples is used to support an evolutionary view of culture, where social progress and moral growth bring us to a somewhat imperfect (but more advanced) present. We miss the idyll of a tribal past, but we are too sophisticated now to ever return.

Though we might wonder how Daniel’s society came to revel in killing, ethnographic studies of traditional human societies lying largely outside the control of state government have shown that war, murder, and demonetization of neighbors have been the norm. Modern state societies rate as exceptional by the standards of human history, because we instead grow up learning a universal code of morality that is constantly hammered into us: promulgated every week in our churches and codified in our laws. But the differences between the norms of states and of Handa clan society are not actually so sharp. In times of war, even modern state societies quickly turn the enemy into a dehumanized figure of hatred, only to enjoin us to stop hating again as soon as a peace treaty is signed.

There are whiffs of L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Campbell, and even Jeffrey Sachs to this logic. Great masters of the sonorous single narrative, by which all manner of irritating complexities are put to rest. In the end, dear readers, it’s a small world after all.

Excess and restraint

This brings me to my third point. Diamond gets it wrong. Any thesis based on Melanesian justice as being retributive in the Western sense is absolutely wrong. It is solipsistic simplification.

Anthropologists most frequently define groups and their borders by whom they fight. There has been a long history of anthropologists studying conflict in Melanesia as a means of describing group identity, governance, and the social contract that is community. C.H. Wedgewood made the first stab at synthesizing this material in 1930, arguing that warfare in Oceania serves to integrate and knit together a community by defining the enemy – the Other. But the watershed years for studies of warfare in Papua New Guinea (PNG) really were the 1970s, when a cadre of anthropologists produced seminal ethnographies on the causes, forms and function of violence, especially across the highlands (see Barth 1975, Berndt 1971, Brown 1978, Hallpike 1977, Koch 1974, Meggitt 1977; Scaglion 1979, Schieffelin 1979, Sillitoe 1978, Strathern 1977, Vayda 1976, e.g.).

The triggers and causes of inter-tribal conflicts are never the same. Any pretext can initiate a fight, but this may be only a superficial altercation. It is the older, submerged reasons that make the blood boil and really sustain a war. Only the most assiduous research can tease these out of the gossip, bragging, historicizing and campaigning that surround warfare everywhere. Ronald Berndt’s 1962 classic of highlands warfare, Excess and Restraint, is more about excess than it is about restraint, seeming to imply that there are far more fights than strategies for keeping peace. Similarly, Ryan’s 1959 work on the Mendi (near Daniel Wemp’s region) calls inter-clan fighting volatile and chronic (1959: 268), and Glasse (1959) says the nearby Huli are hell-bent on continuous war. It can all look pretty rogue and bloodthirsty from the outside – like Homo sapiens in some pre-modern state of self-interest. But none of these writers would suggest that this is the whole story.

In the words of one Melanesian expert:

“[N]o worthwhile comment can be made on the cause of a particular [inter-clan] clash without inside knowledge of the longterm relationship between the contesting parties, or about the bearing group memories have on the conflict. Empirical accounts of the formal procedures, frequency, weaponry, and strategy of war, what is more, have only partial value in explaining conflict if little can be said about consciousness and underlying beliefs. There is no better introduction to this cognitive side to the matter than through analyzing notions of revenge. Killing was not carried out for the sheer love of it; it was virtually always an act to repay or satisfy some material grievance. But vengeance against enemies, in particular, was almost invariably backed up by appeals to legitimacy. Whether taken at the socially acceptable moment or not, it was normally sanctioned by those helping, perhaps paying the killed, or by those sharing the drive to assuage the sense of loss in ongoing ‘revenge warfare’ (Trompf 1994: 28-9).”

Even when war attracts hotheads and loose cannons (and Diamond tells us “The New Guinea Highlands are full of aggressive men seeking revenge for their own reasons”), and even when warriors seek unsanctioned revenge, there is still the distinction between legal and illegal bloodshed. Violence must have social legitimacy greater than one’s own personal ambitions. It is hard to glean whether Diamond knows this or not from comments like the following:

Daniel was proud both of the aggressiveness displayed by all the warring clans of his Nipa tribe and of their faultless recall of debts and grievances. He likened Nipa people to “light elephants”: As Diamond quotes him in his New Yorker article, “They remember what happened thirty years ago, and their words continue to float in the air. The way that we come to understand things in life is by telling stories, like the stories I am telling you now, and like all the stories that grandfathers tell their grandchildren about their relatives who must be avenged. We also come to understand things in life by fighting on the battlefield along with our fellow-clansmen and allies.”

Berndt also recounts some of the most fantastic and improbable boasts of war (see Knauft 1999: 118).

If Diamond would have us understand that a revenge culture in highlands PNG is also rule-bound and rational, closer to a Babylonian law or the Torah than a modern state, we must also assume that it cultivates a system of punishment intended to end a conflict. This is consistent with an evolutionary view of culture in general, where an eye for an eye emerged in response to the endless personal vendettas posing a threat to the social fabric. In the earliest forms of statehood, defining tit for tat was a means of finishing warfare rather than perpetuating it. But again, listen to the highlands experts. Glasse says of the Huli that they have no idea of lex talionis. A man tries to inflict a greater injury than that which he has suffered. Moreover, the people who suffer as a result of vengeance do not accept their injuries as just or appropriate; they too seek counter-vengeance, and the conflict is unending (1968: 68).

This is precisely why there are so any young highlands men willing to do battle. As Glasse tells us, “nearly every [Huli] man nurses a grievance that can precipitate war” (Ibid: 88).

Revenge in the Western sense simply does not exist in the highlands of New Guinea. Outsiders are constantly left dumbfounded by the open-endedness of the system. But the Melanesian worldview is no simple subject to tackle, even for battle-hardened anthropologists. Payback killings and apparently indiscriminate acts of revenge are as common as prodigious (even self-destructive) acts of generosity, gifts without promise of comparable return, and infinite strategies of deflecting blame. None of these conundrums is separable in a Melanesian worldview.

Behind the Melanesian pidgin term “bekim” (payback) lies the presumption that life, punctuated by dangerous feuding and competitions, colored by the excitement of reciprocities and trade, is to be apprehended as a continuous interweaving of gains and losses, giving and taking, wealth and destitution, joy and sorrow, vitality and death (Trompf op cit:1).

Smoke in the Hills, Gunfire in the Valley

Rosita Henry has a particularly apt 2005 Oceania article  (Henry 2005) by this title about the Nebilyer fight in the Western Highlands that broke out in 1990 and ran for almost a decade. It also serves to illustrate Trompf’s point above, about the inevitability of violence as part of – not a rent in – the social fabric. Outsiders know the Nebilyer war from Connolly and Anderson’s third film in the First Contact trilogy of films, Black Harvest, which was shot while the couple lived  on Joe Leahy’s plantation and bore witness to the opening salvos of the fight. I would assume Diamond himself is familiar with the film. Henry deals explicitly with peacemaking strategies and the complexities of negotiating compensation throughout a conflict, and she walks us through some of the event analyzes provided by participants themselves. That is, she cites the explanations they give for paying certain parties, and not paying others, and for electing certain causes of the conflict while ignoring others.

It’s an excellent paper that rings true to me because I was living in Mt. Hagen with one of the participant clans, the Penambe, at the time; I am familiar with some of the folks’ quotes; and I was a business partner to the person whose song lyrics form part of the title. Maggie Leahy Wilson’s plaintive song says: “There’s smoke in the hills / Gunfire in the valley / A woman is wailing / A loved one is killed / My heart is aching / My Heart is aching.” It’s about heartache, Henry reminds us, which always makes highlands violence regrettable, especially to women, even if we concede that it is integral to the warp and woof of highlands life. She goes on the demonstrate how, like it or not, peace compensation strategies during and after warfare are as important to the community as traditional exchange ceremonies. Along with Rumsey, Merlan, and M. Strathern, Henry argues that warfare is not a mark of social degeneration (sensu Hobbes) but a structural component of highlands society, even as it is bemoaned and avoided by most highlanders.

Alan Rumsey (Rumsey 1999), Francesca Merlan (Merlan and Rumsey 1991) and Marilyn Strathern (M. Strathern 1972) all have written about peace negotiations in the Western Highlands as highly social events, as layered and important as moka exchanges, funerary feasts and bride price ceremonies. But moka wealth exchange partners are never the same people you oppose in battle, so the relations defined there are very different. In battle, for example, direct and primary enemies never compensate each other; they compensate their allies and their minor enemies who may have lost lives and property. In some cases this seems counter-intuitive (to people like Diamond), but it is part of a strategy to ensure future alliances, and not to seal an absolute peace. Special transactions can secure longer-lasting peace, however, and help settle a matter more conclusively. These transactions require lengthy discussion, in which every trigger event, and then every secondary cause, is re-examined for latent significance and hidden motives. First the key causes are revealed to the communities and left to percolate in gossip for awhile, to accumulate variant recollections and memories of past causes. It’s what we call “planting the seed” in tok bokis or euphemistic tok pisin: a proposition is placed on the table for a while, and public conjecture accumulates around it. Finally, the best orators from all sides will reap the fruit of this and present it in a formal debate, literally redefining the terms of the fight as they do so. Their eloquence can weave insinuation into clever parables that may, if successful, satisfy all parties while leaving acceptable loopholes for the future. Consensus, and definitely not emotions, seals the conclusion of these peace negotiations. People like Daniel Wemp might walk away with one interpretation, and his enemy may take away another, but neither view shakes the tree of consensus.

In the Nebilyer fight, for example, one of the trigger events was a mistake. A Ganiga man shot dead his clansman, a security guard, after a theft on Joe Leahy’s coffee plantation. Initially, the Ganiga assumed a Kulka had shot the guard, and they retaliated against the Kulkas. But they actually chopped up a Kulka ally, a Poi Penambe man, and this elicited a fierce alliance between Kulkas and Poi Penambe. In turn, the Ganiga brought in the Ulka as their allies, re-activating a series of debts and obligations between these sometimes-allies. Ultimately, the internal compensations were labyrinthine: Ulkas paying each other, Ganigas paying Ulkas, Poi Penambe paying Kulkas, and Ulka Kundulge paying the Ganigas (because it turns out the man who shot the security guard was not Ganiga but Ulka Kundulge after all).

In the midst of all of this, Henry cites the Poi Penambe man who was chopped up by the Ganigas and survived. His complaint is clearly made in the hope of eliciting sympathy from the listener, fully aware that his problem is “unjust” at some level, but knowing that the social contract, and not his personal emotions, will prevail.

The Kulkas are putting the pressure on me and my tribe you see, because I was axed. I was axed and the fight started. Probably about 30 or 40 men were killed, Kulkas. And the pressure is on me now, May father and my small tribe, Poi Penambe, you know. They’ve been given pigs and money and all that thing, and they’re still putting pressure on us today…They want cash now. I have to initiate that by putting in a couple of grand, which I haven’t got. They [Kulka] sort of feel that because they [Ganiga (Ulka)] chopped you and we supported you and we lost our men in the fight and then you’re still alive, we should be compensated by you for our men (Henry 2005: 438).

This is “restorative” justice, or what Alan Rumsey prefers to call transformative justice (Rumsey 2003) – and it has nothing to do with either personal or collective revenge. It is about finding a way forward, as painful as that may be. Indeed, I imagine the Poi Penambe man still harbors resentments from that period.

In addition (and this has to do with the Daniel Wemp case) these analyses are made all the more complicated by new factors of the cash economy: a cash crop income (coffee, in this case) and the resentments over whose land is used for cash crops, and the obvious jealousies of an emergent class system. Some people are vastly wealthy in the Western Highlands today, while others are modern peasants. Any substantive discussion of Wemp’s story, and his gloss of events,  must take these factors into consideration. Like the Western Highlands, the Southern Highlands context involves the segmentary politics of clans, and the new hierarchies of cash.

Swallowing half-truths

The problem is that Papua New Guineans are more and more likely to describe warfare in ways that Europeans prefer to understand it.

When hostilities break out between two sides, the outsider is apt to regard the situation as arising de novo. And when Melanesians are asked today why given fights have occurred, they themselves are prone to give deceptively simple answers, to do with land-grabbing, for example, theft of pigs, rape or perhaps sorcery. Rarer reasons are known to have been voiced: such as women stealing, elopement, jilting a marriage suitor, threats to a trade specialty, or even insults directed at gardens by a visiting tribal leader. Perhaps the most common type of response, though still simplistic as it remains, is to give a narrative account, an informant telling how A was angered by the actions of B and led a raiding party to kill B or one of his associates (and did so in a way worth telling), the deeper or long-term reasons behind the act of revenge being barely touched. After years of interaction between “subject” and “ruling” peoples, these replies to outside researchers have taken on a stereotypical quality…[and] such replies have been absorbed into pre-existing explanatory frameworks to vulgarize the already dissolving subtleties and complexities of traditional perspectives. When it is blithely accepted, however, that Melanesians view human conflict in terms of disconnected, separate episodes, with acts that require revenge, followed by acts of vengeance (or satisfaction), supposedly forming a self-contained unit of affairs, only a half-truth has been swallowed. (Ibid: 32) (emphasis added)

Traditional justice in New Guinea is not based on the Western model of retribution, but on that of restoration. Restorative justice is far from the eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth blood-lust Diamond attributes to Wemp and would wish for his father-in-law; it has more to do with repairing the social fabric. Restorative justice as the tribal dispute logic is also being increasingly formalized in PNG’s statutory law. In village courts it has always been the leading form of jurisprudence: Whatever custom makes the best peace is the best option. But even the greater legal apparatus of PNG has more and more customary law folded into it these days.

For women in particular, it continues to be a very unsatisfying form of peace. As traditional clanswomen were subject (rather like Sharia law) to their husband’s whims, and more likely to be thrown in as part of a compensation payment than avenged for injury, they are beginning to seek more equable status in the courts these days. None of this has been easy (see Garap 2000), and some of it has been remarkably successful in recent conflict resolution cases (see Rumsey 2000, 2003). But it continues to resist the Judeo-Christian concept of a bounded and autonomous individual before the courts – someone wholly responsible for his or her action – because that product of Western civilization simply does not exist in Melanesia.

Women are struggling with this across the developing world, and anyone familiar with non-Western worldviews would be able to appreciate the steeper uphill battle of feminism outside the Western world. Not long ago, for example, a young woman from the Southern Highlands of PNG, not far from Daniel Wemp’s home, took her own father to court to establish her jural individualism (and won): It was determined that she could stay at university in the capital and not, as her father and clan had determined, be part of a compensation package to an enemy clan.

Restorative justice

Let me try to explain restorative justice with a personal example from the Western Highlands. In 1993, I was kidnapped in Mt. Hagen (which is about 60 km from Nipa) by a gang of young men who were members of my hosts’ enemy clan. I was living with the Elti Penambe, and these were Kopi clansmen living just next to Penambe clan boundaries on Kuta Ridge, outside of Mt. Hagen town. The gang held up a car carrying me and two tourists on our way to town, as we passed through their customary land. We were really just caught up in traditional Penambe-Kopi tensions made more fraught by the nearby Nebilyer fight. Our kidnappers did not target us per se, but as accessories to the Penambe cause. The tourists were an Australian father and son visiting from Port Moresby, and I was a familiar Penambe resident at the time. In the course of the day we walked through the bush, were held at gun and knife point, and finally, after threat of a gang rape, fought the captors, after which I ran away and was molested by one of them

During the year of court proceedings that followed the incident, clansmen and friends did what they could to dissuade me from pursuing the case, not so much because they couldn’t understand my anger, but because they said it would jeopardize the inter-clan peace. How could I be so selfish? Even when the enemy tried to substitute one young man for the culprit (someone who could do the jail time because he wasn’t in school), I was (for some reason) dogged in my need for retribution. The kid who put a knife to my neck was going to be the kid who paid the price, I insisted.

As my clansmen hammered out their own precarious peace, including an exchange of pigs and money that never involved me, I went back and forth from the courthouse in town with sympathetic cops from the lowlands who openly despised Hagen people and made no bones about roughing up the young man in his cell.

Eventually, a public prosecutor helped me apply a new restorative justice law when the young man was convicted: In exchange for the detention time he had served, I would accept a collection of kina compensation from the clan. This new restorative clause seemed fair to me, because the kid had spent a year in detention anyway, and I was in fact angry at the clan for harboring the gang and not assisting us to bring it in.

By the time a conviction was made, I was thoroughly disgusted with my “host” clan as well as these neighbors, and entirely on the grounds of Western “fairness” I had deeply internalized. At one point, while still living in the village, we’d put out word that there was a reward for some of the cargo stolen from the tourists, in particular their video camera. When the gear came back, at the hands of one of the culprits himself, I snickered and told them I’d lied, there was no reward – and my hosts were furious with me for the deceit.

They had not been angry in my behalf at the lies we were continually told by the clan representatives (that they had no idea who these kids were and no notion of where they might be hiding). And they were not appeased in the least when we found the gang had left in the camera a home video that, when played, revealed the clan representative to be part of the gang and pledging, in local language, that the next time they kidnapped me they’d kill me after all.

During this period, as a bushfire in the enemy land grew out of control and threatened to cook our gardens, I was told to leave the clan land for fear, with the fire, of starting a renewed war. Joe Leahy (himself deeply embroiled in the Nebilyer fight) offered me safe haven in one of his town flats.

I distinctly remember two offenses I took very personally during this period, even as I knew better than to do so. At one point, the enemy clan leader was accompanied by a Peace Corps volunteer, a very nice young man working in the region, when he came to visit one night and plead for me to drop the case. I had by now seen him in a home video (and still keeping this fact secret), so when I grew impatient and accused him of lying, the Peace Corps volunteer quite disingenuously came to his defense, asking, “Don’t you think you’re being little culturally insensitive, Nancy?”

At another time, my business partner and host, with whom I had written several grant proposals for women’s projects, told me I was aggravating clan tensions and putting the poor accused lad’s family in great distress by not dropping the case. So much for female solidarity, I snarled.

Finally, when the young man was convicted and returned with the clan counselor on the designated day, with the agreed-upon fine, there was no one to receive him at court, and the two walked back to the village, never to be pursued again. I took churlish satisfaction to find the young man repeatedly re-offended afterwards, and was pleased to hear he was caught for robbery and thrown into jail sometime later.

But every time I passed the rest of the gang on the streets of Hagen, for years afterwards, they would wave and shout friendly hellos to me like we were old pals. And I’ll never forget one afternoon when I waited in the courthouse for our hearing and the young man was led past me in handcuffs. “Hey Nance, yu orait?” he said, or some such unaffected greeting. I stood there for a long time trying to understand how he could be so friendly, so impersonal about his arrest.

In the end, it was this depersonalization that got me through the ordeal, because every Hagen woman I might have commiserated with preferred to say “Get over it,” and “What makes you special?” I was a cipher in a group war, and nothing, not even the assault, was a personal gesture.
The fact that I was a woman only further diffused my “rights.”

It hit home one day, several months into the trial, when the lowlands policeman assigned to my case came to pick me up for the proceedings. He had the case file on the seat beside him, under his holstered gun, and I took a quick look out of curiosity. He was a nice guy; I liked him, even though he had been among those who relished bashing the kid when he was first picked up. (The most disturbing instance I saw came when they pulled him out of the cell, for my benefit, and stood him before a low desk, where they lay his penis and gave it several boot whacks – certainly not to be confused with an expression of feminist solidarity.) When I opened the case file I noticed that the charge against this kid was “theft,” and nowhere did it mention the attempted rape. “What?” I must have asked. The cop told me yeah, he’d forgotten, and they’d tack that on afterwards when they got a conviction.

Ultimately, I learned what the Poi Penambe man interviewed by Rosita Henry knew too well. I could cry forever about my personal wounds, but I’d evoke no sympathy until I worked for a larger social reparation.

Patterns of aggression

In conclusion, I would say that anthropologists are not the only elephants who remember past injuries. Conservationists and development workers in PNG have similar memories. In 1992, for example, World Wildlife Fund US, on whose board Diamond sits, sponsored an eco-forestry project in the Kikori Delta region of PNG. Chevron was then drilling for oil in the region and had become concerned about publicity surrounding its environmental effects, so they enlisted the help of the WWF to green up their image.

Internal Chevron documents at the time suggested that “WWF will act as a buffer for the joint venture against environmentally damaging activities in the region, and against international environmental criticism.” The eco-forestry project would be an alternative to the industrial logging made possible by laying Chevron’s oil pipeline, and would be additionally supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the U.S. State Department and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

The problem was, however, they did not source their timber from the logs felled by Chevron, but instead from a local company that was known to be harvesting mangrove forests. Unfortunately, harvesting mangroves is illegal in PNG, for conservation reasons. When the sawdust hit the fan, though, WWF US proved unrepentant. Apparently (in a remarkable foreshadowing of this debate) the state of Papua New Guinea did not mean much to the project sponsors.

As the Sydney Morning Herald reported, “Jared Diamond, a WWFUS board member and Pulitzer Prize winner … says that what is happening at Kikori is ‘sustainable logging of mangroves.’ Diamond adds that, regardless of whether it is illegal ‘if it can be done on a sustainable basis then by all means do it’” (Rowell 2001).

Enough said.


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Rappaport, R.A. 1967. Pigs for the Ancestors. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Reay, M. 1959. The Kuma. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Rowell, A. 2001. “No way to save trees.” Sydney Morning Herald, 02/03/2001.

Rumsey, A. 1999. “Social segmentation, voting, and violence in Papua New Guinea.” The Contemporary Pacific 11(2):305-333.

—–2000. “Women as peacemakers–A case from the Nebilyer Valley, Western Highlands, Papua New Guinea.” In S. Dinnen and A. Ley (eds), Reflections on Violence in Melanesia. Leichhardt, NSW: The Federation Press, pp. 139-155.

—–2003. “Tribal Warfare and Transformative Justice in the New Guinea Highlands.” In Sinclair Dinnen, Anita Jowett and Tess Newton (eds.) A Kind of Mending: Restorative Justice in the Pacific Islands, Canberra: Pandanus Press, pp. 79-93.

Scaglion, R. 1979. “Formal and Informal Operations of a Village Court in Maprik.” Melanesian Law Journal 7(1): 116-29.

Schieffelin, E. L. 1976. The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Strathern, A. 1977. “Contemporary Warfare in the New Guinea Highlands: Breakdown or Revival?” Yagl-Ambu 4 (3): 135-46.

Strathern, M. 1972. Women in Between: Female Roles in a Male World: Mount Hagen, New Guinea. London: Seminar Press.

Trompf, G.W. 1994. Payback: The Logic of Retribution in Melanesian Religions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wedgewood, C.H. 1930. “Some Aspects of Warfare in Melanesia.” Oceania 1:1ff.


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

82 thoughts on “Jared Diamond’s ‘Light Elephants’ and Dark Revenge In The New Yorker: The Problems of Amateur Anthropology

  1. I am talking about StinkyJournalism.org.

    I said JohnSo and JL turned out to be the same person (sock puppetry) on StinkyJournalism.org.

    I said because JohnSo and JL turned out to be the same person using two fake names on StinkyJournalism.org, those names and comments would be banned from further posting on StinkyJournalism.org .

    I produced server data showing your two comments (under two names) posted approx.15 minutes apart in StinkyJournalism.org admin section.

    I wrote “Here is the data from StinkyJournalism comments admin…

    05/05/2009 09:08:35 JohnSo writes….

    05/05/2009 08:49:51 JL writes….

    I think your name-calling and rudeness further supports my good judgment.

    I repeat what I posted above:

    “Do let an anonymous troll who got caught and banned from StinkyJournalism.org, hijack comments here with hyperbole nonsense. He used multiple pseudonyms (sock puppets) to fake a larger set of critics (instead of one person) than actually existed in StinkyJournalism.org comments.

    “We have new rules thanks to ‘JL’ aka ‘JohnSo’ (are more pseudonyms here?) who all share the same email address (SavageMinds admin- you might also check).

    “From StinkyJournalism.org comments:

    “ ‘Warning: No Sock Puppets: If you pretend to be two different people, using two (or more) different pseudonyms, when you are actually one person (presumably to give the false appearance that more people than one is commenting) your comment(s) and pseudonyms will thereafter be blocked.’ ”

  2. How’s this? You say: “Do let an anonymous troll who got caught and banned from StinkyJournalism.org, hijack comments here with hyperbole nonsense.”

    I agree with you completely. Do.

    Now, can we get back to the subject at hand?

  3. JohnSo: As I said, even if you think publishing the name of the perpetrator is ok, publishing the name of the victim – especially without confirming a crime – may well not be. There are certainly plenty of precedents for not doing so, in situations where it would expose the victim in some way. The victim, no matter how many people claim to have murdered or injured him, is still a private citizen.

  4. I’ve read through the 53 comments in response to Nancy Sullivan’s essay. Less than ten address the issues raised in the essay. The rest seem to be a spat between frustrated academes, with “Johnso,” the patron saint of passive aggressives, leading the initial attack to smear Nancy Sullivan and then backing off and begging out.
    As an editor on this series, I was deeply moved by Nancy Sullivan’s essay. It was honest and forthright. And she had the guts to put her name on it and give details about some really brutal things that she witnessed. I would take her firsthand knowledge in the field over any ten dissertations by bitter academes hiding out in their Anthropology Department cubicles.
    That said, why is the second instinct to race to the defense of Jared Diamond and The New Yorker? Has anyone who is commenting here even read the article in the New Yorker? I’ll be happy to photocopy and mail a copy to you, if you haven’t, because it may or may not have been taken down from the magazine’s web site.
    Here are just a few of the violations, from the perspective of journalism (the field in which I graze for my living):
    1. Diamond had only one source for his quotations. Even a high school newspaper sports editor would refuse to accept that from a stringer.
    2. The quotations themselves seem unreal and stilted (see “and hence” above).
    3. Why did The New Yorker, which makes a fetish of its fact-checking prowess—boasting that they even fact check cartoons—do no fact checking on Diamond’s story until AFTER it appeared? Did they simply trust that Diamond had all his ducks in a row because he’s a bestselling author? A professor? A nice guy who would not lie or deceive? Is this standard operating procedure for contributors of similar high-profile status?
    4. The New Yorker, from all appearances, did not verify any quotes, dates or criminal assertions in Diamond’s article before it was printed
    5. Did Diamond not talk to a single other person besides Daniel Wemp in PNG? Given that he states “between four and six thousand” people were involved in the violence, it stands to reason that there might have been other people with something to say about the events. And, it also stands to reason, that if Diamond had talked to other people, he would have learned how farfetched were Daniel Wemp’s purported stories. If he didn’t talk to anyone else who witnessed the events, then he is guilty of journalistic negligence. If he did, and simply ignored any perspectives that were contrary to his chosen theme, then he is guilty of deception. Either way, Diamond is up a creek with this story.
    I will get into this in more detail in my essay for The Pig in a Garden series, to be up sometime in the next week or so.

  5. I prefer to think of it, not as passive aggressive but as cautious and dogged. Buy hey, I can be straight aggressive if you want. As a reporter yourself, you should know not to make judgments untilt he facts are in, and we’ve heard little from the New Yorker, and that only through Shearer, and nothing from Diamond. $10 million dollar lawsuits will make people clam up, no?

    1. We don’t know what kind of quotes Diamond had: we only know what was printed. I often get all sorts of back up quotes that I give to my editor but leave out of the piece. The flow of the story tends to be more important to magazines than it is to newspapers.

    2. The quotations are unreal and stilted because Diamond polished them up. Many journalists do — and in fact if Diamond hadn’t he would have been accused of trying to make Wemp look stupid or ‘primitive’. He may have polished them a bit too much, but the impulse is not dishonorable. Sportswriters do it, crime reporters do it: you know this. In fact, pretty much any reporter who takes notes instead of tape recording is going to have to do it. You know this, too.

    3. The New Yorker certainly did fact check the piece before they printed it. Please try and keep up here. Indeed, one of the people they contacted was one of the people who runs this board, who said that it “more or less rings true to me”. Since I doubt they would check with Rex and no one else, it seems likely that the piece went through a full, if not perfectly satisfactory, session of fact-checking. This was staring you in the face, Alan. Where did you get the idea that they “did no fact-checking”? Is that your idea of journalism?

    Getting aggressive enough for you?

    4. We don’t know what they verified and what they didn’t. They obviously got some stuff wrong, but it’s an exaggeration to insist that they “did not verify any quotes, dates, or criminal assertions”. — Any? Really? Is this your idea of honest, factual reporting undertaken with a firm knowledge of the events described?

    5. Isn’t this the same as question (1)? Anyway, it has the same answer.

  6. Anthropologists sometimes speak of a ‘natural history of discourse’ — the same way that naturalists follow whales or whatever through their life cycle, migrations, etc. we try to follow stories from their origin in one place, through all their permutations and transformations, to their destination someplace else (or at least one segment of their endless history of being told and retold).

    I’ve maintained from the start of this is that what is interesting in this debate is the way that stories told in one location are sneaking back to the other location. But in retrospect it really seems to me that what this story is about is tracing the entire path of this story as it moved from Southern Highlands to New York and back again. A lot of the substantive and important issues raised by JohnSo come from the fact that we have the history of these stories as the originated in Nipa, and ended up being told to Jared Diamond in a pickup truck. But what we do not have is the story of their reformulation, verification, and editing as Diamond retold them to The New Yorker. That is a black box that, ethnographically, I feel really needs to be opened up.

  7. My sentiments exactly. And now, many of you will be delighted to learn, I’m going to take my leave. I’ve had some free time and this is all fascinating to me, but I have to get back to work — ironically enough, going through fact-checking on a magazine story (no, not for the New Yorker, though it’s comparable).

    Rex: thank you for being calm and sensible, and for letting me post here freely, without knowing anything about me. I’m sure it can be a little frustrating. If you want (though I’m guessing you don’t), I can send you my cv, just so you can be assured I’m not Diamond’s cousin, or the New Yorker’s libel lawyer. I’ll send you my real email privately.

    Finally, yes we’re staring at a black box: if any of you are really interested in getting a sense of what might have gone on in it, I urge you to read up on the Janet Malcolm/Jefrrey Masson affair — a case similar in many respects to this. Malcolm, if you don’t know, was a New Yorker writer who wrote a profile of Masson, then Director of the Freud Archives. Masson claimed he had been misquoted and sued. Malcolm had some tapes, which didn’t entirely back up her version of what he said; and had taken some notes, many of which she’d lost.

    The case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, who found in Malcolm’s favor. Among their opinions:

    “Even if a journalist has tape recorded the spoken statement of a public figure, the full and exact statement will be reported in only rare circumstances. The existence of both a speaker and a reporter; the translation between two media, speech and the printed word; the addition of punctuation; and the practical necessity to edit and make intelligible a speaker’s perhaps rambling comments, all make it misleading to suggest that a quotation will be reconstructed with complete accuracy.”

    You can read the whole decision at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/89-1799.ZO.html.

    Note, too, that the Court didn’t care whether Masson’s statements were true, but only whether it was true that he made them.

    Of course, this is a legal opinion, not necessarily an ethical one. Still, I think you might find it interesting.

    ‘Bye all, and thanks again.

  8. Isn’t it obvious that “Johnso” is some kind of malignant troll? His reference to Rhonda as a “bag lady” would have gotten him unsubbed from the mailing list I moderate and banned from commenting on my own blog.

  9. Sullivan writes cogently about a number of key topics here in response to Diamond. I’d like to return to something DP said in the comments, that hasn’t been much taken up- that there are multiple anthropologies.

    I don’t refer to generalizing about the human condition, which isn’t my interest. But Sullivan also writes:

    >> It is not about expanding biological knowledge, nor defining the line between culture and biology, but about understanding the diversities of what is manmade, what is not natural after all.

    As usual, everything depends on definition, on what she means by “expanding biological knowledge.” Right, of course, human behavior isn’t hard-wired. But I hope we’re beyond the days when to speak of ‘human biology’ is considered a dirty thing in anthropology. Lots and lots of biological anthropologists want to expand our knowledge of the dynamic interworkings of human biology and human culture in, say, the evolution of language or the expression of intersubjectivity; to challenge and refuse reductionist models coming from evolutionary psychology by insisting that both neuroplasticity and the ethnography of human meaning-making militate against them; even by understanding the deepest roots of human behavior in nonhuman primate behavior (behavior that is transformed in our species, but still has biological roots).

    Agreed that in anthro, we don’t have a popularizer as good as Margaret Mead was. But there are lots of anthropologists who are trying to make that outreach. It’d be a valuable project (at Savage Minds or elsewhere) to put out some kind of shortlist- or longlist!- of people doing that sort of thing.

  10. Rex, you really need to rethink the policies of discourse in this comments section. Instead of making a clear boundary–namely, that it is not okay to call me names– you allowed, and even worse–selective dignified JohnSo’s comments (a proven sock puppeteer) with your statement : “A lot of the substantive and important issues raised by JohnSo…”

    Your selective praise and silence on his clearly out-of-bounds troll behavior rings of– unfortunately for you and me and everyone who reads this blog– your acceptance of such behavior, if not, worse, an endorsement by omission.

    The truth is you know the New Yorker only fact checked generalities. You said so. May I remind you?

    You emailed me: “The reporter called me 15 minutes before class so I talked with them until I had to go teach. I offered to speak with them over the weekend, but they never called me back. The questions were about the shape of arrowheads, the average size of tribal fights, whether women in PNG breastfed piglets, and so forth — I guess those qualify as ‘general questions’. None of them were about the particulars of the plot or narrative of Diamond’s story.”

    Moreover, The New Yorker told me they only checked with experts what the story “touches” on as we quoted in our April 21, 2009 report, “Jared Diamond’s Factual Collapse” on StinkyJournalism.org. Here is the link: http://www.stinkyjournalism.org/latest-journalism-news-updates-149.php.

    Here is the relevant passage longer here than what was directly quoted from Pamela Maffei McCarthy’s, Deputy Editor, The New Yorker, email letter to me, August 15, 2008, in our report.

    After admitting they never spoke to Wemp, McCarthy further writes: “We did try to reach Mr. Wemp for fact-checking, but we could not track him down despite inquiries to his employer and other contacts. We were not able to send someone to PNG but nor should we have — fact-checking is not meant to re-report the story but to double-check it. When our first choice of source is not available, we must rely on the next, and in this case we consulted a large number of experts in the various fields the material touches on.”

    This assertion that they tried and failed to contact Wemp “despite inquiries to his employer” is bogus. Diamond easily found Wemp May 2006 at his last employer Oil Search Ltd.

    So why did Diamond send NYer fact checkers on a wild goose chase, by telling them (and New Yorker readers in the Vengeance article) that he knew Wemp as a Chevron driver?

    Diamond only knew Wemp, laying eyes or ears on him :

    a. During 2001-2002 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) admin assistant/driver driivng him around in what Diamond has described himself as a “WWF vehicle.” When fact-checker Chris Jennings called Chevron, they, unsurprisingly had no records of Wemp and could not confirm his employment–but New yorker published it and said it was true anyway! Chevron left Papua New Guinea in 2003, as they sold out to Oil Search–a fact that Diamond has also published…hummmm.

    b. On May 29,2006–When Wemp worked as an oil field technician for Oil Search. Diamond, in fact, called Oil Search May 28th and made an appointment with Wemp and found him there as a Oil Search field technician on May 29th.

    Wemp was NEVER a driver for Chevron as Diamond wrongly reported in his article. In the tape recording that both New Yorker and Wemp made of the conversation between Wemp and Jennings in August 2008 (only following Wemp’s and my insistence that they “for God’s sakes” speak to the man now since they did not bother before publication) it is clear that Jennings had no clue about either Oil Search or WWF being Wemp’s actual employers. He even asked Wemp to spell out the company names!

    I asked PNG WWF if they had been contacted by New Yorker and the people I spoke with said no. Same goes for the guy in charge of employee records for Oil Search that I spoke with.

    So how did Diamond easily find Wemp when he wanted to in May 2006 at Oil Search (Oil Search and WWF workers I spoke with knew where he was), but never mentioned these correct former employers to New Yorker? Why would he find Wemp himself at Oil Search but direct fact checkers to Chevron long out-of-the picture?

    Despite McCarthy’s,claim, “We did try to reach Mr. Wemp for fact-checking, but we could not track him down despite inquiries to his employer and other contacts” our investigation reveals numerous facts supporting that this is an inaccurate claim at best and real shenanigans or deceptions at worst, by New Yorker, Diamond or both. Our forthcoming longer report will offer more details.

  11. Sorry, I know I said I wasn’t coming back, but I need to correct myself. Reading around this morning, I discovered that I had misremembered the Malcolm v Masson case. In fact, — well, it’s complicated.

    In the original trial, a California court exonerated Malcolm before the case could go to a jury. Masson appealed to a higher court, which upheld the exoneration. Masson appealed again to the Supreme Court, which held that the earlier dismissals were too hasty — that is, they ruled against Malcolm, not for her, as I originally said. So the case went back to California to stand trial before a jury. That jury found partially against Malcolm. There was a second trial to determine damages; in that trial, the jury found in favor of Malcolm, and all libel charges were dismissed. Masson appealed, but I court upheld the dismissal.

    Apologies for the confusion, and so long,


  12. The differences between the infamous Malcolm and this one are are clear.

    Malcolm had numerous tape recordings –but none that documented the quotes she used at question

    Diamond, according to the New Yorker and Wemp, took NO recordings or notes during the 2001-2002 car rides that he claimed in the New Yorker article were said by Wemp in the car. ..

    Diamond’s only notes are in short-hand from many years later–May 29,2006–after the car rides took place.

    Furthermore, Unlike the other case, where Malcolm’s unhappy source KNEW he was going to be featured in the New Yorker.

    Masson was a public figure and doctor—not a private person like Wemp, with a 10th grade education, who had no idea that he would be featured in the New Yorker Magazine as a criminal naming others as criminals.

  13. I think I speak for Nancy as well as myself regarding the disgraceful treatment we received in this comments section.

    If JohnSo (aka JL) indeed truthfully works for a major magazine the ilk of the New Yorker as he has represented, employee policy likely prohibits employees or free lancers using sock puppets to attack others and any other engagement in discourse unbecoming an employee or agent –such as false identities on the web.

    Fake names are prohibited by FaceBook and the trend is growing because of the type of behavior we witnessed right here under Nancy’s story.

    If an error is made, there is no sense or purpose to call a person “fraud” in multiple posts or call me “bag lady” or other insults. It is traumatizing and unfair to have someone dare speak to me (or Nancy) with such disrespect.

    What would JohnSo’s employer say about his manners or lack of them?

    Anonymous sources when used by newspapers at least have editors who for the most part screen who the person is, and as the New York Times Ombudsmen says, quoting policy… “the newspaper will not allow personal or partisan attacks from behind a mask of anonymity.”

    Yet here and other places, people will fake names and then unnecessarily, without any relevance to content or discussion, make personal attacks and name call. They do so cowardly for those of us who name ourselves do so at risk.

    John So can tell us how terrible we are, call us names with no consequence–like a bully who strikes our faces while their friend holds down our arms –unfair because their work or personage can not be looked at, judged or struck back in kind.

    It is hard to defend oneself against anonymous attackers because we, who are honest about who we are, know that we are creating a permanent digital record of what we say, in connection to our good names, that we want to maintain as good names.

    JohnSo is JohnSo one minute then 15 minutes later on StinkyJournalism.org becomes “JL”. Why should he hold back? No accountability is left in the troll’s wake.

    Basic respect– no name calling, or sock puppets –are now required in Stinkyjournalism.org comments.

    We hope SavageMinds.org will follow in kind and not indirectly encourage name calling and other rude discourse by avoiding it.

  14. I have been following theses threads and the posts back and forth related to them, and I have to say that I have appreciated JohnSo’s contributions here lately. He said that he posted from one computer, than another, apparently minimized the amount of time between the postings, but then clarified what happened. He has seemed a little over-eager, but his responses struck me as engaged and always relevant. The ‘bag lady’ comment seemed pretty left-field.

    That said, it seems like a weird obfuscation to go after him for “sock-puppetry” instead of responding to his substantive issue — the fraud of claiming PhD status when only ABD. I do think that issue is peripheral to your critique of Diamond, but its seems just as unfair if not self-serving to go after the victim of a sock-puppet thing without responding to why you would mis-represent yourself professionally.

  15. You are mixing up information. JohnSo did not explain away why he used two different names on StinkyJournalism.org within approx 15 minutes –he was talking about was the time he did the same here within seconds before anyone noticed.

    Also, Nancy answered the question about stating PhD (abd) (aka-meaning all but dissertation) –it is an accurate statement and no one has showed any evidence otherwise.

    I do not like the bullying and rudeness. Indeed it has nothing to do with Diamond but that does not mean I will not protest bad treatment.

    You or JohnSo can say you do not think it is right to say PhD (abd)
    and provide evidence of why you think so, but to scream “fraud”
    etc is rude and mean spirited.

  16. You mean the accuracy of the dog-ate-my-homework explanation for her not *actually* being a PhD?

    That didn’t really clear things up for me. I’ve been ABD for three years —since before I left for fieldwork in 2006– but I wouldn’t dream of claiming my status as PhD (abd) without having finished the dissertation. Whatever circumstances contributed to that failure don’t really matter, do they? I understand ABD is a category for universities seeking to hire people who may not have submitted their dissertation yet, but the two categories are mutually exclusive until the PhD has actually been attained.

    The Nobel laureate (all but prize) comment made me chuckle.

  17. Johnso, a simple queston for you:
    Have you read Jared Diamond’s article in the New Yorker?
    If not, don’t you think you really should know what you are rushing to defend so vociferously?
    OK, that’s two questions.
    Your ego seems too invested in the exchanges here for you to really, as you’ve said, “take your leave” of the comments section. However, if indeed you work for a magazine “comparable” to New Yorker and your idea of journalism is “polishing up” quotes, I despair even further for my profession. I work part time for a daily newspaper (yes, a dying breed) and if any reporter at that paper “polished up” quotes, they would be fired. On the spot. No questions asked. No justification accepted. Cases of reporters just “polishing up” have contributed to the demise of journalism (Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Patricia Smith, Mike Barnicle, Patricia Smith, Janet Cooke, Jack Kelley, various and sundry “embedded” reporters who were little more than propagandistic mouthpieces for their “sources” whose idea of “polishing up” was lying). Interesting choice of Janet Malcolm with which to compare this. The original lawsuit against her involved The New Yorker, which published an excerpt from the book in question, Inside the Freud Archives. She also was involved in a legal case resulting from her book The Journalist and the Murderer, which was expanded from a New Yorker article. I can assure you that Jared Diamond is no Janet Malcolm. He screwed up royally in this article and he surely knows it by now.

  18. To “been following this the whole time”

    You have your opinion. That does not make you right. Nancy puts her real name out there, writes a damn good essay and is out there, according to multiple experts, doing real anthropology .

    Who are you? What have you written? Tell us so we may, in turn, judge you and your work.

  19. I am reading all this discussion about my loathsome fraudulence, and because it detracts so seriously from the original issues, I do want to apologize for my claims to be PdD, even ABD, the confusion over whether the dog ate my homework, etc., and whether I am credentialed enough to confront Diamond. Please read the essay again as a person working and living in PNG for the past 22 years.

  20. For the Record:

    Nancy Sullivan’s NYU PhD advisors write letters of support over the years knowing full well her degree status as PhD (ABD)–hence why, with their support and from others in anthropology, she recently won a Guggenheim.

    Therefore these claims of fraud (even suggesting that she needs to apologize to NYU) are outrageous libels and make no sense as well as serve as cruel distractions from what is real about Nancy and her work. She has earned her way in spades: It’s all on her web site: Her many grants, her work for the PNG government, her authorship and editing of books with Divine Word University, her company that trains Papua New Guinean ethnographers, her whistle-blowing reports of manufacturing plants, labour issues, corruption, and conservation in PNGand her articles about virtually all aspects of PNG popular culture. PNG Anthropologists say she speaks Tok Pisin like a native Papua New Guinean, such is her competence .

  21. There is no doubt whatsoever that Nancy Sullivan is an extraordinarily well-qualified anthropologist, and her contribution to the Diamond issue is terrific. There seems to be no disagreement on that.

    I was not in the least troubled by someone listing themself as “PhD (abd)” — a small twist on reality, at worst. (Of course, for the uninitiated “abd” could have been interpreted as “absolutely brilliant dissertation”…) But when I checked Nancy’s website I was more surprised to see that she does call herself “Dr.” Nancy Sullivan, and that is simply wrong. That mis-identification is of a different order than the PhD (abd) matter. That is a more clear misrepresentation of one’s status.

    As we are moving out of the phase of a new U.S. president’s nomination of so many appointees, perhaps Nancy and others will understand that the slighest whiff of dishonesty has often de-railed appointments, sometimes over minor issues that have nothing to do with the candidate’s qualifications for office. I’m much more sympathetic to those who question Nancy’s honesty since seeing the “Dr.” designation — and her explanation merely tells us why she does not have a PhD, not why she nonetheless calls herself “Dr.”

    — David

  22. Yup, Rhonda, all those things are fantastic. I am sure she is eminently qualified. She’s just not credentialed.

  23. Nancy Sullivan- caught being truthful! Nancy Sullivan caught being Ethical!
    By accepting what someone posted here- without ‘fact checking’ or requesting they post a link awful libelous threads were posted wrongly accusing Nancy Sullivan of misrepresenting herself on her website. Too many posts here rehashed her qualifications and weather or not she lived up to the ethical standards expected of her. Well, she did. She lived up to the ethical standards of reporting academic credentials and as we have come to learn, she has lived up to so much more.
    Using waybackmachine.org I was able to check her website postings from the very first one to the very last one. In every one I checked Nancy Sullivan listed her credentials as PhD(abd).
    Rex, this is one reason you can’t take a live and let live attitude about posters- the “whatever” stance you took. Allowing posters, especially anonymous ones to make accusations of “fraud” is a terrible mistake. Like it or not this responsibility rests with you.
    In light of the number of posts discussing the awful “untruth” here I write again:
    Nancy Sullivan caught being Ethical!

    Bonnie Garner

  24. So, you found out that she *consistently* has noted herself as the holder of a non-existent degree? [PhD (abd)]
    I don’t really see what the point of pointing that out is.

    The whole problem was that you can’t *really* be a “PhD (abd).” the “abd” part makes the “PhD” part impossible, doesn’t it? Others were more worried that she claimed for herself the title of “Dr.”

  25. I back from her website, from which I copy and paste the relevant portion of her CV:

    NAME: Dr. Nancy Sullivan
    PhD anthropology with specialization in PNG media production (abd)

  26. Jh wrote: “Just curious, but did Diamond have an IRB for human subjects research?”

    I have asked UCLA IRB if they reviewed the research Diamond did for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) 2001-2002 in PNG (when Wemp was driving him around as a WWF employee) . When Diamond writes about this consulting work he refers to getting permission for interviewing Chevron employees in addition to the bird watching.

    I am waiting for UCLA IRB’s answer.

    I do know from New Yorker editor that Diamond had no written or “informed consent.” She told me I was “confusing” journalism (which she claimed was what Dr. Diamond was doing) with science.

  27. No, you are not confusing the two. But they seem to forget that they had a faculty member who is still obligated to follow his university guidelines when writing for the New Yorker. The New Yorker is not the basis on which Diamond claims his authority. But he claims to be a researcher. So he is obligated to follow protocol. If not legally (and according to the contract of his employment) then certainly ethically.

    Speaking of self representation… his degree was in physiology and biophysics, but this is conveniently forgotten on his department web page.

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