Jared Diamond sued for $45 million

Jared Diamond, NGS Explorer-in-Residence

Two men in Papua New Guinea filed a $45-million libel suit last year against Jared Diamond for a story he published in the New Yorker. (The case appeared on our radar because Jared Diamond is also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.)

According to Jessica Palmer at Science Blogs:

“Last April [2008], Diamond wrote an article for the New Yorker on tribal feuding in New Guinea, entitled “Vengeance is Ours.” I read the article when it came out, and I can remember being shocked at the violence in it. Diamond’s main source, a New Guinean driver named Daniel Wemp, told unrepentant tales of rape, murder, and theft committed during his quest to revenge himself on another tribal leader, Henep Isum. The article says Wemp’s quest ended when Isum was paralyzed by an arrow. A troubling story — but it was in the New Yorker, under the heading “Annals of Anthropology,” and more important, it was by scientist Jared Diamond. Despite my shock, I figured it had to be fact-checked and accurate.

Well, according to an expose by Rhonda Roland Shearer at stinkyjournalism.org, Diamond’s article is mostly false. Isum is perfectly healthy, not paralyzed. Wemp says he never committed the crimes attributed to him. Neither man is a tribal leader. And now both Wemp and Isum are suing Diamond and the New Yorker’s parent company for defamation, seeking $10 million in damages.” [In October 2009, an amended complaint raised the demand for damages to $45 million.]

Professional anthropologists are also upset. The story’s title included the tag “Annals of Anthropology,” but Diamond is not an anthropologist. He’s a professor of geography whose field research in New Guinea has focused on the evolution of birds. Diamond also violated a basic rule for publishing anthropological research: Don’t use the names of real people or real clans. According to Michael Balter in Science:

“Both Diamond and [New Yorker Editor David] Remnick insist that such anthropological criticisms are irrelevant, because Diamond was working as a journalist for a popular magazine, not as an anthropologist writing a scholarly article. Although Diamond says he did not find out about the “Annals of Anthropology” line until shortly before publication and now regrets it, Remnick points out that the magazine routinely uses the “Annals” logo for stories not written by trained experts in the field at hand. Says Diamond, “Everyone knows that The New Yorker is not a scientific publication; it’s journalism.” That’s why he used the names Wemp gave him, he says.

Diamond’s explanation raises a question we’d like to pose to John Fahey:

When Jared Diamond speaks from his podium
at National Geographic,
is he addressing us as a scientist or as a journalist?

Here’s the full article from Science:

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