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Diamond in the rough?

Hmm. A Papua New Guinea tribesman is suing the The New Yorker magazine over an article penned by MacArthur “Genius” and Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond. The $10-million suit claims that Diamond falsely accuses the tribesman and another colleague of criminal acts, including murder, in a bloody revenge tale.

While PNG tribesman Daniel Wemp admitted telling stories to Diamond and others, a friend of his said that it’s common practice:

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.

My brother-in-law and his wife spent eight years in PNG in isolated villages. They often recounted how the villagers would tell them stories they insisted were true – in most cases, for good-natured entertainment to see how gullible the Americans were. John and Kim soon learned to recognize and enjoy being the butt of the jokes.

I’m reminded of anthropologist Margaret Mead’s acclaimed work “Coming of Age in Samoa,” which celebrated sexual openness among Samoan adolescents. Some scholars have dismissed those claims as untrue, arguing that the 23-year-old Mead herself may have been told “stories” by the young people she interviewed.

Jared Diamond is celebrated for his “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” but I was appalled by the tunnel-vision approach in his more recent book “Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed,” in which he claims overuse of resources led to the collapse of several societies and should serve as a warning for our current societies. For an excellent critique of Diamond’s “Collapse,” read Ron Bailey’s article, “Under the spell of Malthus.”

Diamond is also celebrated for his ornithological studies in PNG. Maybe he needs to spend more time studying humans to recognize when he’s being gulled.