The Roughing of a Diamond

By Emmanuel Narokobi

It was in the PNG papers last week, the story from the New Yorker of the purportedly huge fabrications made by that Pulitzer Prize-winning geography scholar, Jared Diamond.

The facts from stinkyjournalism.org are as follows:

  • Daniel Wemp and Henep Isum file a summons and sue for 10 million dollars in the Supreme Court of the State of New York–charge famed UCLA scientist and best-selling author Jared Diamond and Advance Publications (aka The New Yorker magazine and Times-Picayune newspaper) with defamation, April 20, 2009.
  • REVEALED: The New Yorker removed Diamond’s article from the open Internet last year after demand by Daniel Wemp’s lawyers (Lexis Nexis, EBSCO, Gale Group databases also complied with the take-down. Only abstracts remain).
  • The New Yorker fact checkers never contacted any of the indigenous Papua New Guinea people named in Jared Diamond’s article as unrepentant killers, rapists and thieves, before publication.
  • Henep Isum is not paralyzed in a wheelchair with a spinal injury, as Diamond claimed. He and Daniel Wemp, Diamond’s World Wildlife Fund driver in 2001-2002, and the only source for The New Yorker’s revenge story in Papua New Guinea, as well as dozens of tribal members and police officials, deny Diamond’s entire tale about the bloody Ombal and Handa war, calling it “untrue.”
  • Expert linguistic analysis and The New Yorker’s own admissions indicate the quotations attributed to Daniel Wemp, as spoken in 2001-2002, are fabrications.

Now I’m not going to give my analysis of all of this because I am absolutely unqualified to do so. But I am amazed at the speed at which the story was checked ‘with a fine tooth comb’. You can read the very detailed debunking of Jared Diamonds paper here by stinkyjournalism.org. I like also that if you go to the end of that stinkyjournalism.org page, they give you a detailed explanation on the research methods employed for their forthcoming 40,000-word report (Real Tribes / Fake History: Errors, Failures of Method and the Consequences for Indigenous People in Papua New Guinea) that will be released in the coming weeks. But then again, I guess that’s what Anthropologists live for.

So what then is the lesson here for anthropologists?

I’d probably say that its important facts on our, already over analyzed country,  are  not misrepresented so that these facts are not relied upon in future to perpetuate misconceptions of PNG culture and society.

Me thinks poor Diamond perhaps underestimated Daniel Wemp and Henep Isum, thinking that for some reason they would never come across his paper in The New Yorker. Sorry Diamond, you forget that the world is a smaller place today and Papua New Guinean’s today live in the real world and not in books and stories.

Update 2/5/09

You might also be interested in reading the letter to The New Yorker by Mako John Kuwimb, a lecturer in law and a PhD candidate at Australia’s James Cook University, who is one of the people responsible for the lawsuit against The New Yorker. See it  here

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8 thoughts on “The Roughing of a Diamond

  1. It is frustrating to read of Jared Diamond’s representation of PNG cultures. This is not too different to the post about the topples PNG woman published in the US also; the exotic/primitive is still how PNG is imagined by much of the west, and especially as it is portrayed in the media.

    Weather or not the ‘facts’ in Diamonds article are proven true or not, this whole case is very important (and sad) to both researchers and PNG society, when put in context of existing cross-cultural research in PNG (assuming this is what Emanuel you mean by describing PNG as an ‘over analyzied country’). I will provide an extremely brief explication of this here:

    My understanding is that Jared Diamond is more of a geographer physiologist than an Anthropologist. However academic research, including Anthropology has had a long history in PNG (Trobrian Islands was host for the first extensive ethnographic research by the famous Anthropologist Malinowski). This history has been characterized by the one-way flow of information (data in the form of descriptions of PNG cultures for example) from PNG to western universities, and many scholars have forged their careers by working with PNG cultures, while the communities they work with benefit little from their research.

    Because of this, cross-cultural researchers have a bit of a bad rep – in one extreme, cross-cultural research in PNG could be seen as a form of neo-colonial exploitation. Consequently, in anthropology and related disciplines (ie, cultural geography – if that’s what Jared Diamond does), there is a prominent discourse concerning the ethics of cross-cultural research. These aren’t ‘rules’ or anything, but socially responsible researchers will be well versed in this discourse, and understand the importance of maintaining good (and long term) relationships with the communities they work with. Part of this includes paying considerable attention to how the cultures are represented in the publications resulting from the research – for example, some anthropologists engage in ‘field-back’ where the results are shared (and checked) with the communities the researcher has worked with. It appears on the surface Jared Diamond has failed in this area (However, I am not an expert on this case, nor have i read the article).

    What i find most concerning about this case is that it highlights that cross-cultural research in PNG has a long way to go to repair its bad reputation – and this is not being helped by the way PNG culture has reportedly been represented in this case.

    em tasol

  2. Thanks Oli, and yes not all studies here are exploited. But its the few that get it wrong that seem effect us the worst. I guess it also highlights another issue, which is where are our own Anthropologists/Geographers/Physiologists etc? When are we going to start writing and publishing about ourselves?

    I’m just curious but if there is ‘indigenously’ produced material out there, where can we find it?

  3. Correction, Jared Diamond is an evolutionary biologist. There is indigenous produced material. You can find material in publications such as New Guinea Research Bulletin and Point. These publications at NRI or ANU or Melanesian Institute (for Point). New Guinea Research Bulletin is no longer being produced but I think Point is still being published by Melanesian Institute. Melanesian Institute also produces Catalyst. Divine Word University also has the Divine Word Research Journal

    There is a small number of researchers/indigenous academics producing work outside of PNG such as Dr Andrew Moutu and Dr Charles Yala among others. There is a small number of indigenous researchers/academics producting work (such as Dr Andrew Moutu).

  4. Thanks Finah for letting me know, obviously I’m a bit ignorant in these area’s so thanks again. I’ll have a look through what they have.

    Yes Dr. Andrew Moutu I know quite well, I remember having a couple of discussions with him a long time ago about PNG identity, ownership of it and other complex issues like that. In fact he actually came out with a book in Cambridge sometime back. I’ll email him and see if I can find out more about it.

  5. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am. Disappointed. Jared Diamond educated me.

    So I am sad. But also glad. I too am highly skeptical of the motives of cross-cultural researchers and also the value of the work they produce in terms of the veracity of the things they opine (esp in light of what I see as a constantly repeated portrayal of the Melanesian as the Modern Savage – Oli’s neo-colonialist point – its humiliating and patronising and propogates an utterly false image of us either dim-witted pacific islander coconut-tree climbing ukelele playing fuzzy-haired sing-song broken-English people by day and thugful mugful murdering raping pillaging tribal fighting degenerates by night. Both extremes from which there is no redemption except through being released from our own ignorance by the ‘other’).

    Clearly wider access to media and commuinication will make it harder for people outside of PNG to take advantage of our remoteness and heretofore lack of interconnectedness. Increasing access the internet should go some way to bridging the gaps of misinformation and reducing the opportunities for those who don’t really have an interest in representing us, at the very least, factually. And fundamentally, people like Daniel Wemp and Henep Isum, can stand up and know when they are being defamed, wheresoever that may be occurring in the world, and consequently, do something about it if at all possible.

    Over and out.

  6. Also, read this for a deeper and interesting discussion of “the radical answerability that researchers increasingly have to the people they depict. While this should always have been important to us, it is a topic we can no longer ignore in a world where their ‘informants’ are more connected than ever before to the flows of media and communication in which ‘we’ depict ‘them’” and the ethics involved.

  7. Thanks KK, a great wrap up by ‘Savage Minds’. I particularly liked this paragraph from Rex:

    “Diamond’s case is a cautionary tale for all anthropologists who write in the comfort of their homes imagining their fieldsite is far away. It is answerability that is at stake here—Diamond’s and our own. Answerability is something that journalists have been struggling with longer than anthropologists and I think what they have to teach Diamond offers lessons we ourselves will have to learn in the future (if we haven’t already): get your facts straight, report them fairly, and let people know that you are doing so. It is not only the right thing to do, but in a world where ‘they read what we right’, your audience is also your informants.”

  8. Nice weblog right here! Additionally your website so much up fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate hyperlink on your host? I desire my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

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