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The Jared Diamond case

Posted by Christopher Shea  April 29, 2009 08:17 AM

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As you may have read, Jared Diamond, the best-selling author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel," has been sued for libel over a piece he wrote for the New Yorker.

At Savage Minds, the anthropologist Alex Golub (aka "Rex") observes: "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."

But Golub finds at least as disturbing as the charges in the lawsuit -- unproven, of course -- what he sees as a flouting of anthropological ethics: "Calling someone a murderer in a venue like the New Yorker is a serious claim indeed. Add to this the fact that Diamond used Wemp's real name in the story, and that Wemp had no idea that his stories would ever be published, and you have serious ethical problems. There was, in other words, no informed consent and no attempt to provide anonymity for informants."

Diamond has yet to comment on the case, as far as I've seen. Savage Minds also includes a link to the curiously named Stinkyjournalism.org, which has been stoking the fires in l'affaire Diamond. Stinkyjournalism.org was founded by Rhonda Roland Shearer, Steven Jay Gould's widow.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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