Deep into thesis mode.
I really hope that this was the brainchild of whoever’s job it was to go through the billions of hours of video tape. (It took a while, but thanks for reminding me, Laura!).
Thanks to Cole for recommending this piece from the latest issue of Science about the Jared Diamond – Papua New Guinea flap by Michael Balter. Short version, Jared Diamond wrote a piece last year for the New Yorker about revenge warfare in PNG, then Rhonda Roland Shearer thought it was some nonsense, tracked down the original sources and got them to file a lawsuit. Balter does a good job summarizing the interface between Anthropology (aka SCIENCE) vs. Journalism (aka SCIENCE JOURNALISM), so I’ll leave that to him. But since we seem to be interested in Truth here at
a Conservation Blog, that’s really what I want to address.
First to one of Shearer’s claims in her lawsuit: “[The lawsuit] also claims that Wemp’s life is now in danger from other clans that might want to avenge Mandingo’s alleged injuries, or even from members of his own clan for portraying them as ruthless killers.” Bummer! Then Balter talks to Pauline Wiessner, a Real Anthropologist, who says that, “young men in PNG often exaggerate their tribal warfare exploits or make them up entirely.” Balter also says that a report on the incident published by Shearer states that one of the participants in the case, “expressed surprise at The New Yorker article and claimed that Diamond had never told him about it.” So an article published in The New Yorker, an article that the litigant had never heard of, (you think they have a lot of subscribers in the highlands of PNG?*), has caused serious damage because of its inflated claims of violent exploits, which are extremely common to that area. Huh.
But don’t worry, there are liars on both sides of this story! This is journalism, Diamond and (NYer editor) David Remnick argue. JD: “In journalism, you do name names so that people can check out what you write.” DR: “Using real names is the default practice in journalism.” Except when Sy Hersh gets some awesome anonymous tips about what a ghoul Cheney is. Or every single article about psychology published in their magazine. Fine. But then Remnick takes us further down the rabbit hole. He has the audacity to claim that the fact checker on the story “is one of the best I have ever had the privilege of working with.” Except, “Remnick says that the fact checker was unable to find Wemp before the story was published. After Shearer’s team found Wemp, however, the fact checker did speak with him by telephone.” WHAT. THE. FUCK. The New Yorker‘s fact checkers are legendary. They’ve been called “second authors” on articles because they get so much new information in the process. This is the best fact checker Remnick has ever worked with? Who can’t track down the main source of the article until somebody else does the job for them? And, by the way, if it’s traditional practice to name names, what is the name of this fact checker? If Remnick had just thrown this person under the bus, that would have been fine. But doubling down just throws your whole operation into question. This is the best they can do?
I’m sure a court case will clear this all up.
“‘Vengeance’ Bites Back at Jared Diamond,” M. Balter. Science, 5929: 872-874. (doi: 10.1126/science.324_872)
*In fact, the idea that one tribe would go to war with another tribe because of an article published in The New Yorker sounds more like the premise for a cartoon in that very same magazine.
Happy Endangered Species Day (Happy Earth Day).
Last week, our fair department hosted Dan Brockington to speak about “Celebrity and the Environment: Fame, Wealth and Power in Conservation.” He certainly sparked some conversations, but I think most people just ended up confused about what his point was. He dryly humiliated a bunch of conservation celebrities (ranging from Harrison Ford to Russ Mittermeier), but his talk never really came together. He refused to say whether he believed having celebrities in the conservation world was good or bad. The story that stuck out for me involved the creation of a park in east Africa, spear-headed by celebrities, including Sylvester Stallone. They touted the initiative in classic conservation terms, “saving nature,” “restoring the wilderness,” etc., etc., but Brockington effectively pointed out that a huge number of people were pushed out of the park, and they in fact had to re-locate lots of species from elsewhere that hadn’t been in the area for many years. So, yeah, conservation can be pretty virtual in that way, though how that’s different from the rest of the world we live in I’m not sure.
I think Brockington’s take-home message (unstated, so I’m just guessing) was that celebrities can only become famous if they satisfy a narrative that “Westerners” desire. So, by interpreting the effective messages in celebrity conservation, we can peel back and see the hidden, ugly truth of conservation desire in Americans. That I guess has to be true, and I’m sure there are racist/colonialist overtones to some work that some fringe conservationists do. But why pick on celebrities in conservation, in particular? Whatever you have to say about celebrities in conservation is true for celebrities pursuing any cause. Moreover, it’s true for how any cause is presented to the public, whether by celebrities or news media. (Sample headline from the anthropology world: “Climate change ‘cultural genocide’ for Aborigines.” That’s not inflammatory, is it? Or playing into our war-like nature?)
I get it: celebrities are vapid, and issues are presented to us in incendiary half-truths. Unfortunately, I don’t think that message is particularly important to anybody in our department. Anybody who spends this much time thinking about conservation should be smart enough to recognize the nuances in our field, as is true with any field that finds itself head-to-head with celebrity culture. It’s as if Brockington had gone to Human Rights Watch with a message of, “What’s with Angelina Jolie and all those babies from Africa, right? Like, how crazy is she? You guys are nuts, and your philosophy is problematic.”
Oh well, I know I sound defensive. It was a very entertaining and engaging talk, but ultimately hard to untangle. Kind of like celebrity intrusion into “the real world.”
(And, for synergy sake, Corey’s posting about celebrities today, too.)
- WCS launches the Mannahatta Project website, to be accompanied by awesome book and museum exhibit, eventually city-wide conquest.
- Coral reef in Australia makes a spectacular comeback in just a few years after bleaching incident. Meanwhile, “Super Reef” off of Tanzania makes a spectacular comeback after bleaching events in 1998. What a spectacular coincidence.
- Interesting article on the Great Himalayan National Park, and its effects on locals.
- Little behind, but Obama did repeal those ESA rules, but did not change the ruling on the Polar Bear.
- Europe’s not going to meet its 2010 Biodiversity goals. Sad trombone.
- Somebody got a photo of a jaguar in Barro Colorado.
- The wolverine spotted in the Sierras appears to be from Idaho, probably.
Afghanistan’s only pig (in the Kabul zoo) has been quarantined.