Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 24, 2009

Savage Minds on the Jared Diamond affair

Filed under: anthropology,indigenous,Jared Diamond,racism — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

Vengeance is Hers: Rhonda Shearer on Jared Diamond’s ‘Factual Collapse’

by Rex on April 22nd, 2009

Rhonda Shearer, a cofounder of the Arts Science Research Lab and widow of Stephen Jay Gould recently released a long report on ASRL’s website Stinky Journalism.org entitled Jared Diamond’s Factual Collapse: New Yorker Mag’s Papua New Guinea Revenge Tale Untrue… Tribal Members Angry, Want Justice. I have more than a passing interest in this case because I served as a fact-checker for the New Yorker on the piece, have written my own response to the piece, and have been in contact with Shearer as she has been working on her response. But this story is far more that just something I am personally interested in—it has already been reported on by the Huffington Post and Forbes shows. Most news coverage will focus on the more spectacular aspects of the case: Diamond publishes a piece in the New Yorker depicting a tribal fight in Papua New Guinea, Shearer produces documentation that his accounts are untrue, and the Papua New Guineans involve sue Diamond for US$10 million.

What I think is truly important about this case – beyond the obvious fact that Wemp deserves justice – is that it represents the fundamental ethical issue that anthropologists will have to face for decades to come. Anthropological collaboration with the army may directly impact more human lives, but collaboration is an old problem that we have talked about for a long time. The great ethical debate prior to HTS was the ‘Yanomami Scandal’ stirred up by Patrick Tierney, a debate that centered on anthropologists (and others) behaving badly in the field, and not being held to account by the powers that be in the metropole. Some people like Rob Borofsky want to fetishize this debate as the issue in anthropological ethics, since it involves what they imagine must be the paradigmatic anthropological situation: powerful white outsiders, (relatively) supine brown people.

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April 22, 2009

New Yorker Magazine sued by slandered New Guineans

Filed under: anthropology,indigenous,Jared Diamond,racism — louisproyect @ 1:28 pm


Rhonda Shearer

Henep Isum Mandingo, pictured far right, is angry with Jared Diamond, renowned UCLA scientist, Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author– for telling “lies” about him. Isum was named and falsely charged by Diamond for committing criminal acts without the magazine’s famed fact checkers–or Diamond himself–ever confirming the allegations were true, or even if Isum was a real person. (credit: Michael Kigl, StinkyJournalism.org)


Rhonda Shearer, the widow of Stephen Jay Gould, is a prime mover in this legal action. She contacted me for information on Jared Diamond about a year ago when she was first getting her ducks lined up in a row and after she found my go-for-the-jugular-vein attack on Diamond. Go to http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/my_ecology.htm and look for articles on “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs, and Steel”.

After she referred me to the New Yorker article, I wrote this: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/jared-diamond-on-tribal-warfare-in-new-guinea/


New Guinea Tribe Sues The ‘New Yorker’ For $10 Million Dirk Smillie, 04.21.09, 9:18 PM ET

In an April 21, 2008, New Yorker story, “Vengeance Is Ours,” Pulitzer Prize-winning geography scholar Jared Diamond describes blood feuds that rage for decades among tribes in the Highlands of New Guinea. Diamond tells the story using a central protagonist: Daniel Wemp, member of the Handa clan, a blood-thirsty warrior bent on avenging his uncle’s death. That quest, writes Diamond, touched off six years of warfare leading to the slaughter of 47 people and the theft of 300 pigs.

Now Diamond’s protagonist is fighting Diamond. A two-page complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court on April 20 seeks $10 million from the New Yorker’s publisher, Advance Publications, claiming Diamond’s story falsely accused Wemp and fellow tribesman Isum Mandigo of “serious criminal activity” and “murder.”

Diamond is a best-selling author and winner of a National Science Medal and the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius award.” But Wemp has some academic backing of his own. Rhonda Roland Shearer, director of the New York City-based Art Science Research Lab, whose media ethics project, stinkyjournalism.org, will soon release a 40,000-word study on Diamond’s story.

Shearer dispatched researchers to New Guinea and interviewed 40 anthropologists to fact-check Diamond’s story with a fine-tooth comb. The result, as summed up by the report’s working title: “Jared Diamond’s Factual Collapse: The New Yorker’s Papua New Guinea Revenge Tale Untrue.”

New Yorker spokeswoman Alexa Cassanos said she could not comment on Wemp’s suit or Shearer’s study because she has seen neither, saying only, “We stand by the story.” Diamond did not immediately return calls to Forbes.

Complicating Wemp’s case, perhaps, is an interview he gave to Shearer’s researchers, in which he stated that the stories he told Diamond were in fact true.

But a Wemp friend and legal adviser, Mako John Kuwimb, explains: “When foreigners come to our culture, we tell stories as entertainment. Daniel’s stories were not serious narrative, and Daniel had no idea he was being interviewed for publication. He has never killed anyone or raped a woman. He certainly has never stolen a pig.”


From Rhonda Shearer’s Stinky Journalism website:


  • Daniel Wemp and Henep Isum file a summons and sue for 10 million dollars in 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 data bases 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 spinal injury, as Diamond claimed. He and Daniel Wemp, Diamond’s World Wildlife Fund driver in 2001-2002, and only source for The New Yorker’s revenge story in Papua New Guinea, as well as dozens of tribal members, police officials, deny Diamond’s entire tale about the bloody Ombal and Handa war, calling it “untrue.”
  • Expert linguist analysis and The New Yorker’s own admissions indicate the quotations attributed to Daniel Wemp, as spoken in 2001-2002, are fabrications

UPDATE: 4/22/09, 7:16am: This article includes excerpts from a 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 coming weeks. All interviews were recorded and were in English, the national languages of Papua New Guinea, unless noted. Research methods are detailed at bottom of this article. *

EXCLUSIVE : If Jared Diamond would have changed the names of people and tribes and simply said that he was unsure if the stories he heard were true, Daniel Wemp, his single source for his tale of Papua New Guinea (PNG) tribal revenge, would not be in the danger that Diamond and his publisher, The New Yorker magazine, placed him. This crisis was set in motion a year ago today, on April 21, 2008, with the publication in The New Yorker of the Pulitzer Prize winning author and renowned UCLA scientist’s article, “Annals of Anthropology: Vengeance Is Ours: What can tribal societies tell us about our need to get even?”

When Papua New Guinea researcher, Michael Kigl, working with StinkyJournalism, went to Daniel Wemp’s Nipa home in the Southern Highlands, PNG, July 2008, to ask him about The New Yorker article, he was shocked. Daniel Wemp had no idea that he, or people he mentioned to Diamond in random stories about tribal warfare back in 2001-2002, would be publicly named, and worse, erroneously linked to heinous crimes.

Despite Diamond’s claims, Daniel was no Handa tribal leader, nor was Henep Isum a violent leader of the Ombals. Isum isn’t even an Ombal tribesman but is a Henep (hence, his full name: Henep Isum Mandingo [tribal name, first name, last name]).

In addition to tracking down Daniel Wemp, we also found Henep Isum. When our researcher, Michael Kigl, first saw him, Isum was carrying a large bag of dirt over his shoulder. It turned out that Isum never had a spinal cord injury resulting in his being a wheelchair-bound paralytic, the result—or so Jared Diamond claimed—of an arrow attack by Daniel Wemp’s hired assassins.

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