Updates of Jared Diamond and Daniel Wemp

First, an apology — in the past two weeks I’ve tried to finish an edited volume, a full-length monograph, finals for my classes, and two book reviews (among other things) so I have not had the time to delve into the comments on the posts related to Jared Diamond. Luckily it looks like the community has produced a lot of them, so hopefully it doesn’t need me. This is a good thing because I will soon be travelling to Papua New Guinea for research over the summer and will have even less time to post. I hope the story will continue to get the attention it deserves.

This leads me to, second, an announcement, because I (and others) are leaving for the summer for research and we find ourselves unable to keep up with posting essays of, what has turned out to be, more contributors than anticipated. StinkyJournalism.org will continue the series with the same editors. I’ll comment from Papua New Guinea as time allows.

Third, a quick roundup of various links to the Diamond/Wemp affair. Some links from around the blogosphere — Clay Spinuzzi (an extremely excellent activity-theorist type who Bonnie Nardi turned me on to) has a nice right-up of the Diamond/Wemp affair entitled Participants Can Respond. Uh-oh. It nicely boils down the underlying dynamic of the debate:

Although institutional research boards have historically been conceived as a way to protect participants from researchers’ representations, social media mean that the danger is now bidirectional – participants can represent the researcher in damaging ways as well, and those representations could easily circulate more broadly than the researcher’s.

Bidrectionality: There you have it, folks.

In a very ‘university of blogaria’ vein (this reference will probably make sense to noone but me), Millicent and Carla Fran have a nice entry on Jared Diamond’s Creative (Non)Fiction and Nostalgic Anthropology and a response which is classy and thoughtful.

Stinky Journalism also has another piece in their series up by Glenn Peterson on matrilineal clans and the containment of violence in Micronesia which further fortifies the claim that ‘stateless’ socities have structures which shape — and sometimes prevent — violence. They are not ‘states of nature’ in which vengeance runs amok. I have the impression that Glenn is not well-known out of Oceanist circles, but I hope I’m wrong in this because he is a very, very intelligent guy and I am very junior to him in the small world of anthropology in Oceania.

Finally, the main link of the day — Science Magazine is running a story ‘Vengeance’ Bites Back At Jared Diamond, which represents the most thoroughly research coverage of the case so far. I was interviewed for the piece and, more importantly, so was Jared Diamond and staff at the New Yorker, making it the first time they have commented on record on the case.

What Diamond has to say is not that actually that interesting — he is only quoted as saying “the case has no merit at all”. But what is interesting about the piece is that it describes, at least a little bit, the production of the New Yorker article. In comments on one of our postings on Diamond, I mentioned that I thought we had an excellent record of what happened in Nipa, and how various people say it was or wasn’t represented accurately, but that we had no way of telling what happened between the time Wemp told Diamond his story and the New Yorker published it. Now, with the Science article, we have a relatively detailed sense of the chain of transmission from Nipa to Wemp to Diamond to the New Yorker to us. Very interesting. Of course it is behind a pay wall, but I’d encourage everyone, if possible, to check it out.


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

14 thoughts on “Updates of Jared Diamond and Daniel Wemp

  1. Thanks for this post Alex. Good luck with your research in PNG. Please let us know if there is is fall-out from the Diamond case there regarding new attitudes–positive or negative–from papua New Guineans towards researchers.

    SavageMinds.org readers may be interested in this quote by anthropologist Polly Wiessner (who works in PNG) who also spoke to Michael Balter, for the May 15, 2009, Science report you mention on this case.

    Balter writes: “She [Wiessner] thinks that Diamond should travel to PNG and engage in some restorative justice of his own. ‘Diamond has been wonderfully respectful of PNG and has done so much to raise the image of the country in the world, until that story…He should be taken to a village court; he should apologize; he should say that he was told this story and he should have checked it; and in compensation, he should give some money to each tribe, for their schools, a health center, or some community project.”

    Diamond does make some revealing claims in Balter’s piece, such as his firm belief that he adhered –not to anthropology ethics– but to journalism ethics. Balter writes “Diamond insists that he followed good journalistic practice.”

    We are exploring this claim, and others made by Diamond and The New Yorker in the Science article in a new series of blog posts on StinkyJournalism.org.

    The first one is up now. Go to http://www.stinkyjournalism.org/editordetail.php?id=326.

  2. Now I dip my toe in to learn about this and immediately find…

    >Jared Diamond: In 1992… his beloved paternal uncle Soll was killed in a war…. In the New Guinea Higllands… an uncle’s death represents a much heavier blow…. Soll had been very good to Daniel, who recalled him as a tall and handsome man, destined to become a leader. Soll’s death demanded vengeance…

    >Mako Kuwimb: 1. The very first words, ‘In 1992’, is wrong. It was in 1993. 2. Soll was not tall. Soll was not destined to become a leader…

    >Stinkyjournalism: ‘We Never Make Mistakes’: Jared Diamond & David Remnick echo Stalinist police defending New Yorker article…

    Are you sure you want to get into bed with people who so casually commit Godwin’s Law violations and who deny a nephew’s right to look up to his uncle? I mean, Rhonda Shearer and company sound like real loons…

  3. To Brad DeLong– who called me and colleagues “loons”on on his web site and again here. (StinkyJournalism now bans name- calling in comments–it is unfortunate that SavageMInds allows it).
    (It should be noted that Mr DeLong’s term “loons” was made famous by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News [his term for “left wingers”].

    The blog post title he quotes from StinkyJournalism.org–“‘We Never Make Mistakes’: Jared Diamond & David Remnick echo Stalinist police defending New Yorker article'” – is unexplained by DeLong and taken out of context here. It is a play on the fact that David Remnick is a Soviet expert who knows about denial of errors by an institution. It is meant to be arch not literal – and we use Remnick’s book as an illustration for further emphasis . See http://www.stinkyjournalism.org/editordetail.php?id=328

    Using citation of Godwin’s Law here (that only pertains to bloggers’ eventual devolving online discussions falling into the mention of Hilter or Nazis…I don’t think I need to tell educated readers here that Soviets were not Nazis, but our allies in WW2–so Mr. DeLong’s citing of Godwin’s Law does not make any sense in light that we only mention Soviets .

    Finally, DeLong claim we ” deny a nephew’s right to look up to his uncle” is absurd. In the first place, Soll was NOT Daniel’s blood uncle. It is a term of respect or endearment used for any or all older men in the village. Diamond was ignorant of this fact.

  4. Robin, I am answering DeLong’s accusation that we at StinkyJournalism were “deny[ing] a nephew’s right to look up to his uncle? I am saying, he wasn’t even an uncle, let alone I don’t have a clue what he means by this anyway. None of the facts he cites are true in the quotation.

    Wemp and other in the community state that Wemp and Soll were not even particularly close nor were they blood uncle and nephew, nor was Wemp in any fight to defend his [sic] uncle. Those are the facts.

  5. Rhonda Shearer writes: “To Brad DeLong…. The blog post title he quotes…. ”‘We Never Make Mistakes’: Jared Diamond & David Remnick echo Stalinist police defending New Yorker article’” – is unexplained by DeLong and taken out of context here. It is a play on the fact that David Remnick is a Soviet expert who knows about denial of errors by an institution. It is meant to be arch not literal…”

    Two points:

    1. You can’t take a title “out of context.” The purpose of a title is to *be* its own context–something to be read on its own as an introduction to and pointer to an article.

    2. Are there any other passages that Rhonda Shearer wishes to identify as “literal”? Or should we just take everything she writes as “arch”?

    3. Rex: Please. I beg. I strongly advise you to stop. As I understand matters, Jared Diamond did a bad thing–he took stories told him by Wemp that are of value only as indicators of people’s conceptual universes, of the types of stories people like to tell, and distributed them through the New Yorker in a manner that transforms them into evidence of crimes, offenses, and insults that may trigger deadly force in response. The problem is that Shearer and Kuwimb are compounding the bad action: the more attention and the broader the distribution of Diamond’s reports of what Wemp told him, the worse the potential for damage to Wemp and to PNG. The New Yorker’s initial response–let’s take this off the globally-accessible web–seems to me to have been the right one.

    I understand that Shearer is well on the other side of sanity. But you are not. This is not a good game to be playing…

  6. Brad DeLong,

    You are aware that “Godwin’s Law” is not a real scientific law, aren’t you?

    I’ve noticed that you delight in an argumentative style which highlights one flaw and uses that flaw to discredit the entire argument. However, you apply this rhetorical strategy quite selectively. For instance, with someone like Diamond you are willing to bracket his (many) mistakes in order to conserve those aspects of his work which conform to your own worldview.

    That’s fine, you are welcome to your worldview, but with the Stinky Journalism pieces it isn’t even clear to me that you are aware of the nature of their arguments, or that you read anything beyond the title and first few lines. If you accept that Rex isn’t insane, you would do well to give him the benefit of the doubt and make an honest effort to understand what value a sane person would see in these pieces.

  7. “1. You can’t take a title “out of context.” The purpose of a title is to be its own context—something to be read on its own as an introduction to and pointer to an article.”

    The article is the context for it’s title, since it does not stand alone and apart, but is, from a logical and existential standpoint, included within it, regardless of hierarchy of importance. Titles can imply something that is further explained in an article, but which when read by itself, out of context, would give a misleading picture. It happens all the time. The title may sometimes be written apart from (i.e. out of context from) the article (like in a table of contents, or a link on a website), just like quotations can be, but they are still a part of said article/book/whatever.

  8. Kerim–

    If you are going to write that you don’t think I have read anything beyond the title and first few lines of the ineptly named stinkyjournalism.com, i am going to escalate by writing that I doubt that you can read at all, or even have a brain.

    With Jared Diamond as with other people I read, I try to extend and develop their arguments where I think their arguments are good ones, and criticize and correct them where I think they are wrong. For example:

    [W]hy Europe? Why did the subcontinent at the western edge of Eurasia acquire so much dominance?… Diamond doesn’t have an answer…

    [Diamond’s] book… begins badly. Too many of the opening pages are spent assuring readers that the inhabitants of New Guinea are in fact smarter than the rest of us because in New Guinea… natural selection “promoting genes for intelligence has… been far more ruthless.”… There is a smell of excessive political correctness about the claims for the superior genetic intelligence of the aboriginal inhabitants of New Guinea. It almost made me put the book down then and there…

    [Diamond’s] argument is implausible: Eurasian populations have been “dense” from the perspective of disease transmission for only an eyeblink of Darwinian time…

    Diamond’s answer is that within Eurasia Europe had “optimal fragmentation”… different modes of social organization and technological development could be tried in Europe. Cultural unity meant that successful experiments in social organization and technological development would… quickly and rapidly be copied. A more fragmented subcontinent than Europe would have seen many innovations which would never have spread…. A more unified subcontinent would generate a much smaller number of innovations…. [T]his argument for European dominance within Eurasia is… more a placeholder than an explanation…

    Jared Diamond appears to have done a bad thing in publishing the real names of his source for his account of vengeance and war in Papua New Guinea…

    Tim Burke (who knows Africa) has an intelligent critique of Jared Diamond’s understanding of Africa…

    I think that Tim Burke is right when he writes that “Diamond thinks that post-1500 events are no more than the icing on the cake.” Diamond thinks that, given inequalities as they existed in 1500, post-1500 history is unproblematic…. I think that Diamond is wrong: I think that post-1500 history is not the icing on the cake, and is very problematic…

    [M]ost of the questions I think are most interesting about world history are not ones that Diamond has much purchase on. Europe v. China. South America v. North America. What happened to Islamic civilization after 1000. Diamond has little to say about any of these…

    Diamond massively overstates the ability of his model to help us understand sub-Saharan Africa’s development…. [I]t’s not as though east Africa was cut off from news about what was happening in Eurasia: the most important seaport on the central east African coast… Arabic: Dar es Salaam. The writers of 1 Kings were especially impressed with what the Indian Ocean trade fleets brought: gold, and silver, and ivory, apes, and peacocks. Why, from 1000 to 1800, weren’t the areas around Timbuktu and Dar es Salaam a lot more like the areas around Samarkand and Tashkent (in some centuries they were, weren’t they?)? Diamond’s model doesn’t help us to understand why not…

    You, by contrast, seem to choose a clique and then start throwing garbage…

  9. Brad DeLong

    I’m very happy to see that you aren’t as close-minded as you often sound. Except for the fact that you seem to be unable to distinguish the positions of Rex, Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Andrew Mack, Nancy Sullivan, and Rhonda Shearer. You call them a “clique” but these are all very different people with very different takes on the issue (which is the New Yorker article not GGS, and the critiques of which extend beyond naming sources). Some of them even know PNG as well as Burke knows Africa…

    Here is a handy link to the archives if you decide you care to participate in a constructive manner:


  10. Wow, that’s just weird. I’m a fan of Brad’s own blog and his input in many other debates. Why the bizarre and misdirected hostility here, I wonder? A similar deal was happening over at Crooked Timber as well. Is there something about anthropologists, or about Diamond, that makes everybody lose their cool?

  11. Brother Michael McManus, a journalist, who is head of the communications dept at Divine Word University, in Madang, Papua New Guinea, just posted an article on StinkyJournalisms.org ‘s The Pig in a Garden series.

    It’s title: “Hello from Papua New Guinea…By the way, we read The New Yorker : Jared Diamond’s reputation precedes him in Papua New Guinea”

    Go to http://www.stinkyjournalism.org/latest-journalism-news-updates-156.php to read this interesting boots-on-the- ground take.

  12. Another update from StinkyJournalism.org

    Linguist Douglas Biber writes the seventh essay in the The Pig in a Garden series, titled “Did Daniel Wemp really say that?
    Using corpus linguistics to evaluate the likelihood that Jared Diamond’s reported quotes in The New Yorker were ever spoken”


    In addition, Biber’s full report and analysis is available for the first time as part of his essay.

    Here is a summary of Biber’s essay: “Linguist Douglas Biber examined the quotes attributed to Daniel Wemp in Jared Diamond’s New Yorker article, ‘Vengeance is ours.’ Using corpus analysis, a research approach developed over the last 25 years, Dr. Biber sought to answer the question, ‘How likely, or unlikely, is it that the quotes cited in this article were actually produced in speech?’ He then sought to answer the connected question, ‘How likely is it that Daniel Wemp said these exact words?’ The answers to both questions: ‘Extremely unlikely.’ In other words, Diamond took academic license with his quotations and put the words into Wemp’s mouth that supported his article’s overriding thesis.”

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