Research Subjects Sue Jared Diamond, the Author and Professor, for $10-Million





“While acting on vengeful feelings clearly needs to be discouraged, acknowledging them should be not merely permitted but encouraged,” wrote Jared M. Diamond in an essay in The New Yorker last April.

Now two of the subjects of that essay are acknowledging their own vengeful feelings. This week a lawyer filed a $10-million defamation claim in a New York court on behalf of two Papua New Guinea men whom Mr. Diamond described as active participants in clan warfare during the 1990s.

Mr. Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles and the author of the best-selling Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton, 1997), and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 2004), based the essay almost entirely on accounts given to him by Hup Daniel Wemp, an oil-field technician who served as Mr. Diamond’s driver during a 2001-2 visit to New Guinea. (The full text of the essay is open only to New Yorker subscribers, but a long summary is available here.

Mr. Wemp is now one of the lawsuit’s two plaintiffs; the other is Henep Isum Mandingo, a man who, according to Mr. Diamond’s article, was attacked and paralyzed on orders from Mr. Wemp.

For nearly a year, Mr. Diamond’s article has been scrutinized by Rhonda Roland Shearer, director of the Art Science Research Laboratory, a multifaceted New York organization with a sideline in media criticism. Ms. Shearer, a sculptor and writer, is the widow of Stephen Jay Gould, who preceded Mr. Diamond as a widely esteemed public interpreter of science.

Ms. Shearer has collaborated with three indigenous scholars and journalists in New Guinea—Michael Kigl, Kritoe Keleba, and Jeffrey Elapa—in an attempt to verify and reconstruct Mr. Diamond’s accounts. In a new report, the four writers argue that Mr. Diamond botched the history of the conflict he described, and they say that his errors may have placed Mr. Wemp in danger....

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