Anthropology vs. Journalism: Jared Diamond Edition

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. His source–and others also named in Diamond’s *New Yorker* story–are pissed off, and perhaps now in some extra physical danger.Michael Balter in *Science* reports. I think Balter’s article is incomplete, and that it views Diamond’s critics through rose-colored glasses–if you read Balter you don’t get an accurate view of how much like a loon [Rhonda Shearer and company]( sound (“‘We Never Make Mistakes’: Jared Diamond & David Remnick echo Stalinist police defending New Yorker article…”) or how unconvincing [Mako Kuwimb]( is (“Paragraph 1: ‘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.’ The very first words, ‘In 1992’, is wrong. It was in 1993. Soll was not tall. Soll was not destined to become a leader…).Michael Balter:>‘Vengeance’ Bites Back At Jared Diamond: Diamond stands by his story, arguing that it was based on detailed notes that he took during a 2006 interview with Wemp as well as earlier conversations the two men had in 2001 when Wemp served as his driver in PNG. “The complaint has no merit at all,” Diamond told Science in an interview in his office at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is a professor of geography. Diamond adds that he still considers Wemp’s original account to be the most reliable source for what happened. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, also defends the magazine’s story: “It appears that The New Yorker and Jared Diamond are the subject of an unfair and, frankly, mystifying barrage of accusations.”… Pauline Wiessner… thinks Diamond was naïve if he accepted Wemp’s stories at face value, because young men in PNG often exaggerate their tribal warfare exploits or make them up entirely. “I could have told him immediately that it was a tall tale, an embellished story. I hear lots of them but don’t publish them because they are not true.”>Three worlds collide in this case. First is the world of science, specifically anthropology…. Next is the craft of journalism, with its own set of ethics and practices aimed at reaching the general public. Finally, there is Papua New Guinea…. Diamond… has worked in all three domains…. Although Diamond’s frequent merging of these worlds has brought him both success and some criticism, this time it may have landed him in legal trouble. When Diamond’s article appeared in The New Yorker, it drew the attention of [Rhonda] Shearer, a fierce media critic….>Shearer already had contacts in PNG from an earlier investigation during which she chased down rumors that a Komodo dragon was running amok in the country. (It turned out to be a hoax.) She asked her contacts to try to find Wemp. One, biologist Michael Kigl… found Wemp in his Highlands village in July 2008 and tape recorded an interview with him. According to Shearer and the 10,000-word report, Wemp denied organizing the revenge warfare… expressed surprise at The New Yorker article… claimed that Diamond had never told him about it. (Wemp’s attorneys in New York City and PNG declined to make him available for an interview for this story, saying that their clients preferred to tell their stories in court and not in the press.)… At least one other Papua New Guinean supports the account of Shearer’s team. “Diamond’s article is a confused story that names real places and persons but mixes up false, wrong, and defamatory allegations that bring into disrepute the good name of the named clans and their members,” said Mako Kuwimb, a member of Wemp’s Handa clan…. Diamond, Kuwimb says, “converted a simple, casual conversation [with Wemp] into an article that looks and sounds like an anthropological piece” but “never followed [anthropological] procedures and protocols.” On 21 April of this year, Kuwimb sent The New Yorker’s publisher, Lisa Hughes, a detailed, 30-page refutation of the Diamond article. Among Diamond’s biggest errors, Kuwimb told Hughes, were his statements that the war he described had begun with the “pig in the garden” episode and had lasted 3 years. Kuwimb contends that the war was sparked by a gambling dispute and lasted only a few months….>[A]nthropologists have their own concerns… many think that the “Annals of Anthropology” banner was misleading…. Cultural anthropologist Alex Golub… who says The New Yorker fact checker spoke with him for about 10 minutes… “This affects our discipline’s brand management,” he wrote on an anthropology blog he participates in called Savage Minds. “It’s important for people to know that if they meet an anthropologist, they are not going to be written up in The New Yorker without being told about it.” Savage Minds has now teamed up with to produce a series of invited essays on the case…. Wiessner thinks Diamond should have refrained from naming even the tribes involved. “That was a very big mistake,” she says….>Diamond and Remnick insist that such anthropological criticisms are irrelevant, because Diamond was working as a journalist for a popular magazine…. Diamond says he did not find out about the “Annals of Anthropology” line until shortly before publication and now regrets it…. Says Diamond… “In journalism, you do name names so that people can check out what you write.” Remnick agrees: “Journalistic practice differs from scientific practice in a number of ways,” he says, “and this seems to be one of them. Using real names is the default practice in journalism.” In 2001, Diamond says, Wemp drove him and Australia-based ornithologist David Bishop around the oil fields of Highland PNG…. [H]is article was based on detailed notes he took of the stories that Wemp told him…. Diamond says Wemp told them stories about the Highlands war that had supposedly begun when a man from Mandingo’s clan, the Ombal, found that a pig had ruined his garden and blamed a Handa man for the damage. The ensuing warfare eventually killed Soll, whom Diamond says Wemp identified as his uncle, and it fell to Wemp to take responsibility for organizing a war for retribution…. Diamond says… [he] did nothing with the story until another trip to PNG in May 2006…. [H]e told Wemp explicitly that the story would go into the book. But he was unable to find Wemp again in 2007 when he decided to excerpt one of the book’s chapters for The New Yorker; Wemp had left his job without leaving contact information….>In 2006, “I said to Daniel, ‘Would you be willing to tell the whole story in one piece and I will take notes?’” Diamond says. He pulled out a large, red notebook and took “sentence by sentence” shorthand notes of the conversation, Diamond says, adding that Wemp spelled out the names of the warriors and other individuals who would later be named in The New Yorker piece. (Both Diamond and Shearer agree that Bishop was present during some of the May 2006 conversation; reached by telephone, Bishop declined to comment.) The Shearer account agrees that Diamond took notes in shorthand in a red notebook but differs markedly about what Wemp said. Diamond says that although Wemp clearly understood that he would be named in the book, he did not try to get permission from Mandingo and the others: “I trusted Daniel’s judgment about what was appropriate to discuss.” Diamond says he did double-check Wemp’s story with some younger members of his tribe, who confirmed that some of the people Wemp named had been involved in a tribal war. Diamond also told Science that he heard conflicting accounts about how serious Mandingo’s injuries were and that Mandingo now may have recovered from his wounds….>[Rhonda] Shearer… scored her first victory: In a 12 September 2008 letter to a London attorney, The New Yorker general counsel Lynn Oberlander agreed, “as a sign of good will,” that the magazine would remove Diamond’s article from the freely accessible part of its Web site…. Remnick nevertheless defends the magazine’s efforts to verify Diamond’s story…. “we had Jared Diamond’s meticulous, detailed notes from the 2006 interview with Daniel Wemp… and we consulted with people with expertise in the Southern Highlands, who confirmed that Daniel Wemp’s description of the revenge battle was consistent with known practice.” Remnick also insists that in the August 2008 conversation between Wemp and the fact checker—which was tape recorded by mutual consent—Wemp raised only relatively minor factual objections to Diamond’s account and asserted that the stories were basically true. In Diamond’s view, the case is really about scientists coming under fire for popular writing….>[T]he tribes of PNG do practice revenge warfare, says Wiessner…. In Enga, more than 300 tribal wars have taken the lives of nearly 4000 people since 1991…. Wiessner… is worried about the outcome of the case if it results in a large monetary award: She fears that the money could eventually go to buy weapons that would make the wars even more deadly. “When these wars first started, they were fought with bows and arrows, but now they have M-16s,” she says…. Wiessner faults Diamond for apparently taking Wemp’s stories at face value… believes Wemp himself violated clan ethics by telling them in the first place. “For him to have given the names of tribes and implicate[d] other people than himself,” as Diamond reported, “that was wrong,” she says…


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