May 22, 2009

YOU WOULDN'T EXPECT A DARWINIST TO CARE ABOUT THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD...:

'Vengeance' Bites Back at Jared Diamond (Michael Balter, 5/14/09, Balter's Blog)

IN APRIL 2008, THE WELL-KNOWN biologist and author Jared Diamond penned a dramatic story in The New Yorker magazine, a violent tale of revenge and warfare in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Titled “Vengeance is Ours” and published under the banner “Annals of Anthropology,” the 8000-word article tells the story of a clan war organized by a young Papua New Guinean named Daniel Wemp to avenge the death of Wemp’s uncle, Soll. In Diamond’s telling, the war started in the 1990s over a pig digging up someone’s garden, went on for 3 years, and resulted in the deaths of 29 people. In the end, Diamond wrote, Wemp won: His primary target, a man Diamond referred to as “Isum,” had his spine cut by an arrow and was confined to a wheelchair. [...]

The affair has raised concerns among anthropologists familiar with PNG, who worry that the New Yorker’s “Annals of Anthropology” banner has tarnished the field’s reputation. Anthropologist Pauline Wiessner of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, a leading expert on tribal warfare in PNG, 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.”

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.


...but there may be no piece of data with less evidentiary usefulness than a verbal account from a single participant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 22, 2009 9:09 AM
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