Claims of murder. Accusations of lying. Anthropology. This one's got it all. In April, Jared Diamond, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel, found himself the target of a defamation lawsuit brought by two Handa tribesmen from Papua New Guinea. The suit alleges that Diamond erred when he wrote a New Yorker article claiming that the tribesmen* committed revenge-motivated murder.
The suit also names the New Yorker, and was instigated in part by Rhonda Shearer, the widow of famed paleontologist Stephen Gould.
Now, Science has published a comprehensive breakdown (PDF link). The Science piece touches on some of the more complex issues at play here, including the difference between journalistic and scientific research, the process of fact checking (which the New Yorker is notoriously stingy about) and the effects of tribal warfare on the society of Papua New Guinea. If you only read one article this summer about murder, libel, and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, it should be this one.
*NOTE: Originally his article article incorrectly stated that the New Yorker story identified only one of the tribesmen as being party to the crime, when in fact it implicated both.
You stated above that Diamond "wrote a New Yorker article claiming that one of the tribesmen committed a revenge-motivated murder."
This is incorrect. Diamond wrote that BOTH men, Hup Daniel Wemp and Henep Isum Mandingo, were killers responsible for the deaths of 30 men from 1992-1995 as the two leaders on opposing sides (Handa and Ombal tribes, respectively).
You also write "The suit also names the New Yorker, and was instigated in part by Rhonda Shearer." This is also incorrect.
The Handa tribe comprises among its members lawyers who are quite upset to learn the false allegation that their people raped Huli women as Nipa tribesmen (they are not, and did not) along a highway that they lived hours away from.
Isum and Daniel are their "own men" with their own will and sense of justice. To say I instigated the lawsuit suggests otherwise and is untrue. We waited to publish our report until they decided what they wanted to do. In fact, Daniel Wemp made the key legal decision to demand that New Yorker (and other data bases like Lexis) take the Diamond article down from their web site. (I would have never thought it possible and low and behold it happened under Daniel's direction and orders to lawyers!)
What my team did was research and reveal the facts. New Yorker and Diamond stone-walled from April 30, 2008, when they were first asked if they independently verified that Isum was paralyzed in a wheelchair from a spinal injury from Wemp's assassins (he was not, and is walking around fine and dandy), until the suit was filed April 20, 2009.
See our 10,000 word report that Science Magazine cites in their report. http://www.stinkyjournalism.org/latest-journalism-news-updates-149.php
@RhondaRShearer- Thanks for the heads up about the mistake in the first graf. It has been corrected.