Monday, November 01, 2010

Jared Diamond in Edmonton

FYI: Jared Diamond, Pulitzer winning geographer, author of "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Collapse" is in Edmonton on 17 November. Click the preceding text for details.

Unfortunately the UofA is charging for the event ($35-$48, student concessions are less).

While I have some issues with the geographic determinism in his work, his thesis is still compelling and I'm sure it'd be an worthwhile evening.


Informed Despite Education said...

I examined Diamonds theories and I always found that he was clear in stating that his is a perspective on history, but not the whole picture. His geographic determinism is portrayed becayse he is a geographer and he seems to know he is biased. I always felt his pieces of the puzzle are an interesting insertion into the understand of human society. I am not criticizing your comment, but rather adding my own perspective.

Boris said...

IDE: I think we're actually in agreement. The issue I was alluding to do has to do with tendency for the people to cite the big popular book as 'how it is' when it obviously only tells one part of story.

There's a good problematisation of Diamond here:

RhondaRShearer said...

Jared Diamond is not a geographer, he is a physiologist.

His factual accuracy has been heavy challenged by many including our media ethics research publication, (See ) and a whole list of other critiques regarding troubling ethical lapses in his treatment of indigenous people.

Boris said...

Thanks for visiting us and posting those links.

For all intents and purposes Diamond is a geographer as this is the field his most recent work is in. He also holds a professorship in geography at UCLA. [] I know personally one or two scholars who have ended up in fields far from what their PhD and early career happened to be in, so this is not unusual. I feel quite comfortable describing him as a geographer and apparently so do UCLA.

I think what we've seen is what happens sometimes when natural scientists morph into social scientists who then become public intellectuals and then journalists without the training. There are vastly different ethical considerations between the fields and a New Yorker article seemingly based on some quick discussions with a few locals I agree is a poor substitute for the months or years of fieldwork required for a trained outsider (anthropologist, I would agree that Diamond is not one) to gain empirical insight into the vagaries of PNG vengeance customs.

This isn't the sort of thing that can be done in a few recollected conversations for a magazine article and I think that was Diamond's first mistake. The second mistake may have been taking statements made by his interviewee(s) at face value and then reading a bunch of stuff into them. Imagine their thinking when he rucked up and said "Hi, I'm Jared Diamond, Pulitzer winner, famous public intellectual..." Who knows what tales were then told. Diamonds own epoche or positionality might have garnered a certain story framing. Or not. His third mistake might have been actually being charitable (as opposed to the accusations of dishonesty that have been levelled) with Mr. Wemp by taking his statements at face value. Mr. Wemp is ultimately accountable to the people he lives with, unlike Diamond.


Boris said...

[Rhonda cont'd]

I've experienced it a little in my own work, and I've had colleagues encounter some serious ethical dilemmas in research with unfamiliar populations when there's a serious and apparent contradiction between what they tell the researcher and what the researcher observes. Or what they tell the researcher in private differs from the public narratives. Same thing happens when you talk to civil servants.

Moreover there's the dynamic of Diamond going to speak to them, then the crew from Stinky Journalism comes along and starts asking questions about what they told Diamond. The poor PNG bloke suddenly finds himself caught up between people fact checking Diamond, their alleged own words being fed back to them for confirmation by a group of foreigners equally unfamiliar with the local environment, etc...and become more concerned with saving face and managing an unexpected crisis than an interest in what actually transpired (which by now is floating around somewhere in the Martian ether). The only constant in all of this is people asking Wemp and the locals about conversations that occurred in a Jeep years ago.

I'm not sure there's evidence that Diamond was being intentionally dishonest, but he might have titled his New Yorker piece "Annals of Junk Anthropology" and it probably shouldn't have been published as it was constructed.