Jared Diamond Sued by New Guinea Natives for Crimes of Anthropology

Illustration for article titled Jared Diamond Sued by New Guinea Natives for Crimes of Anthropology

Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, is being sued by two Papua, New Guinea, men who claim the award-winning science writer lied about their lives to prove that tribal culture is violent.


Diamond's article in the New Yorker was called "Vengeance Is Ours," and described a young New Guinean man, called Wemp, and his violent quest for revenge after his uncle Soll was killed by another tribe. Diamond claimed Wemp was out to destroy a tribal leader called Isum, and that to do so he went on a murderous rampage, recruiting dozens of "soldiers" to aid him, and ultimately killing 17 people as well as injuring several others grievously. One of the injured was supposedly Isum (pictured, at far right), whom Diamond describes as being in a wheelchair.

Diamond used the men's story to illustrate a story from his own life, about how his father-in-law had the opportunity to kill the man responsible for murdering his family in a Polish prison camp during World War II. Instead of killing the man, Diamond's father-in-law turned him into police, who released him a year later. Apparently Diamond's father-in-law regretted for the rest of his life that he did not take violent revenge, and it weighed on his conscience.

But the New Guineans, Diamond claims, have no such neuroses because unlike civilized European guys they exact violent revenge on each other all the time.

The problem is that Diamond's notion of tribal culture is based on a fantasy of Diamond's own - one that was propagated by the New Yorker, which never fact-checked his story with the two men it featured as main characters. Wemp killed nobody, and Isum is not in a wheelchair - as you can see from the picture above. Indeed, the two men say they have never met and Isum has suffered no injuries at all. After the story went up online, Wemp suffered tremendously: He'd been accused of heinous crimes, which the men's lawsuit says he did not commit. Other mistakes Diamond made include extremely basic facts, such as which tribes the men are associated with.

If the men's allegations turn out to be correct, it seems that Diamond cobbled together Wemp's story out of several different tales he told while driving Diamond around when Diamond visited the island for the World Wildlife Fund. Essentially, Diamond took the stories his driver told him without ever asking permission, turned them into a lesson about his own life, and published them.

And now, say Wemp and Isum, they have to pay the price for Diamond's tidy little story.


According to StinkyJournalism, a watchdog site that investigated Diamond's New Yorker story:

Despite Diamond's claims, Wemp was no Handa tribal leader, nor was Henep Isum a violent leader of the Ombals. Isum isn't even an Ombal tribesman; he is a Henep, hence, his full name: Henep Isum Mandingo (tribal name, first name, last name) . . . Even though Diamond's article says the quotations by Wemp were made in 2001-2002, this was untrue. The several long and complex (and erudite) quotations attributed to Wemp-that Wemp vehemently denies saying-were apparently composited together by Diamond into a single narrative, along with bits and pieces of Wemp's stories Diamond remembered from years before . . . Diamond's many other errors range from mistakenly saying that two villages are tribes (Aralinja and Ungupi are villages) to creating an entire history of conflict between two tribes where only the smallest fragments of truth can be found and then traced back to the seeds of real events that actually took place . . . By Diamond connecting false assertions of crimes to real people-all sourced to Wemp-he has put [Wemp] in danger among tribes.


It turns out all the crimes that Diamond describes can be traced back to one outbreak of tribal violence in the early 1990s, when 4 men died. It was not an ongoing vengeance cycle, nor did it have anything to do with Wemp's uncle Soll.

It would seem that the person most interested in violent revenge is Diamond himself, on behalf of his father-in-law. Why did he need to exaggerate and fabricate a tale about tribal warfare in New Guinea to tell it?


via StinkyJournalism


Corpore Metal

I too wonder how this will affect discussion of ideas in GG&S if doubt is cast on the truth of all of Diamond's anthropological accounts. Personally I still think they hold up even if fabrication is discovered in the details but, still, a scientist's reputation is a very fragile thing. You document and document and you bend over backwards to avoid lying. You get caught in a lie once and everything you ever said, academically, is cast into doubt.