June 05, 2005 | Graham

Some days are Diamond, some days are Jared

Thursday last week I went to hear Jared Diamond, over here, over-hyped and with the most outrageous comb-over I’ve ever seen. What is it with Australians that we are such suckers for the latest snake-oil salesman from the US, unless their name is George Bush?
Diamond is the author of Collapse, and also of Guns, Germs and Steel – books that rely on a broad range of expertise.
Mark Ridley thinks that because of his broad expertise he is not a single person but instead “is a committee”. Perhaps that explains why he is so able to produce camels rather than horses!
Diamond, we were told by the compere of the evening, prefers to take questions from young people because “they are the future”. Yes, and they may also not have enough contextual knowledge to ask the tough questions. When his self-professed youngest interlocutor of the evening asked Diamond what he as a young person could do to save the world Diamond said, after much fillibustering, ‘You should vote’. Diamond probably doesn’t realise it, but in Australia, unlike the US, you are compelled to vote (or at least turn up and have your name crossed off the roll).
That’s not all he doesn’t appear to appreciate about Australia. He claimed during the course of the lecture that there were only four countries in the world that didn’t accept that greenhouse warming was occurring – Monaco, Lichtenstein, the US, and Australia. So what is this organisation about?
In his book Collapse he claims that Australia’s agricultural sector is so weak that we import most of our agricultural needs. Perhaps he should read this paper by the Australian Bureau of Statistics which shows that about 50% of our agricultural produce is exported. Or he might care to look at this paper where for the half year ending December, 2001 the ABS estimates agricultural exports to be 6.645 billion and imports $204 million.
Then in the Spring 2005 Edition of New Perspectives Quarterly he claims:

With globalization, they [Australians] have realized it is cheaper to buy food from elsewhere and devote less land to farming. Sensibly, there are now plans on the table to wipe out 99 percent of Australian agriculture. If they can make 80 percent of their profits from 1 percent of the land that is suited to agriculture, it makes sense to change.

Someone better do some investigative reporting and get this plan on the front page of the paper – thanks for alerting us Jared. If Diamond has this level of error on the most basic facts, what weight should we give any other “facts” that he cites.
His problems aren’t restricted to facts alone. Diamond may be very good in his real fields of expertise, but the problem is that he doesn’t have any expertise in the disciplines that ask the really vital questions about human societies adapting to change. He told us that he asked his students what the man who chopped down the last tree on Easter Island said. The guesses have ranged from “It’s my right to cut down this tree,” through, “Science will find a replacement for trees,” to “God told me to do it”. But they’re all guesses. Diamond has no idea why the tree was cut down and no real insight into motive. He appears to disdain economics and have no feel for politics.
He thinks Mayan civilisation failed because the Mayan rulers locked themselves away in their castles and could ignore the problems around them. We’re like that today, he opined, because people lock themselves off from the world in gated communities. With powers of observation like this it makes you wonder how much he could really know about long-dead civilisations. What people exactly are living in gated communities? How many? Where? And what about the fact that we live in a democracy where one un-gated vote is worth exactly the same as a gated one!
Truth is, the people who live in gated-communities are probably over-represented in his audience, because they are the sort of people who are scared of the present and much more the future, and it is fear that Diamond is preaching.
Which is why I mentioned the comb-over at the beginning. It typifies Diamond’s approach – it romanticises the past and faces the present with fear, while shunning the very approaches that could make the future palatable, even if different.

Posted by Graham at 2:20 pm | Comments (13) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. This may interest you also http://news.sbs.com.au/insight/trans.php?transid=946

    Comment by Vee — June 5, 2005 @ 5:25 pm

  2. I saw it Vee. His opinions are basically all over the place. Faced with a room full of knowledgeable people he preferred to talk about Montana rather than Australia – good call!
    He’s quite the politician, and everyone was far too polite to want to pin him against the wall, so he got away with essentially saying two different things at two different times. Notice he doesn’t run his “we need to shut down agriculture in Australia” line on SBS, but he did in his Brisbane speech. But of course the audience in Brisbane was quite different, and would have agreed with the more extreme point of view.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 5, 2005 @ 5:47 pm

  3. I was more than half expecting this fellow to suddenly tell us of his experiences with the ‘shy, dignified’ long lost tribe of aborigines that ‘adopted’ him and initiated him into their sacred knowledge and mysterious ways….lol…..why, oh why do we keep on inviting septics to tell us about ourselves? and then being surprised when they know two tenths of sweet f**k all?

    Comment by geoff — June 6, 2005 @ 2:47 pm

  4. I was perusing a hansard today, the 30th May version I think and noticed Anthony Albanese saying the Greenhouse.gov.au had been abolished in the latest budget. Thought that might also be of interest but he is Labor and diametrically opposed to the government so it could just be political phrasing but I’ll leave that for you to verify since you bring it up. It wouldn’t have registered with me, if I hadn’t read this post.

    Comment by Vee — June 6, 2005 @ 10:28 pm

  5. Vee, I can’t tell from the Australian Greenhouse Office whether they’ve been abolished, but they appear to be an internal part of the department, so would assume if they ceased to exist someone else would be doing their job. Their “about” page http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/ago/index.html doesn’t give any hints, however, it should leave no-one in any doubt that the Australian Government believes in greenhouse. I found this link on the budget which has some interesting facts and figures:
    http://www.deh.gov.au/about/budget/2005/ebo/chapter3b.html#climatechange. It puts the lie to Diamond’s claims.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 7, 2005 @ 6:03 pm

  6. Graham I think you’re being a bit hot under the collar here as are most of the detractors for Diamond’s latest book. He’s no stranger to controversy and Guns, Germs and Steel attracted a load of criticism especially from the sociologist camp who objected strongly to his views. It’s the same again here but for different reasons. I have no doubt that Diamond does good research as evidenced by the Rhone Poulenc science prize for GG&S and his academic track record. But I also found Collapse shallow and too broad in scope. When I thought about it a bit more though I realised that I was expecting another GG&S but in fact got something more accessible to the general public. As he was in his public appearance. I think you’re being a bit too parochial over the Australian section and it’s just one case study in a book of several. It is ‘accurate-enough’ exposure for us in an international audience. What is so wrong with being a little less ivory-tower academic and more Jo-Public?

    Comment by Dayna — June 8, 2005 @ 10:07 am

  7. Dayna, I have only two academic publications to my name apart from my honours thesis, so most of my output is aimed at Jo-Public, but I would give the game away if I had made the mistakes that I documented that Diamond has made. If he is capable of good research, then let him demonstrate it.
    I may be hot under the collar, but that is because distortion and inaccuracy really annoy me, particularly from people who hold themselves out as being experts in a field. We expect politicians to lie, but we rely on scientists to give us the truth. When scientists start spinning then we have a problem and the enlightenment project comes under threat.
    One of the reasons that I also get hot under the collar about post-modernism is that it has undermined the belief that one ought to try to search for ultimate truth, even if it is unattainable, in the social sciences. Diamond’s mis-statements make me fear that postmodern relativism is invading some of the harder areas of science.
    Nope, tar and feather him and run out of town on a rail – that’s the only thing to do to tonic salesmen!

    Comment by Graham Young — June 8, 2005 @ 11:25 pm

  8. Although we don’t have many gated communities here along the style of the US, his point of the elites being able to insultate themselves from the impacts of their decisions certainly rings true here in Canberra.
    Also, regarding voting: I believe a study at Swinburne Uni found that some rather high percentage (like maybe 50%) of Australians aged 18-25 do not ever register or vote.
    Just because he’s a reserved foreigner and quite possibly mistaken on some facts shouldn’t totally discredit his message, which has quite a lot in common with Tim Flannery’s Future Eaters.
    For another angle on the cheerful topic of humanity’s grave stupidity (including shooting smart messengers like Diamond) I commend the now 11 year old ‘Coming Anarchy’ article by Robert Kaplan, CACHED AT http://dieoff.org/page67.htm, ‘How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet’ (The Atlantic Monthly, February 1994)

    Comment by Karin — June 12, 2005 @ 6:08 pm

  9. Karin, I’m sure some in Canberra would like to see themselves as being as powerful as the Mayan Kings, but fortunately for the rest of us we all get a vote. Explains why Canberrans vote the other way to the rest of the country.
    Still, the concept of Canberra as a gated community has some appeal!

    Comment by Graham Young — June 13, 2005 @ 2:44 pm

  10. Graham’s cogently pointed out:
    1. Jared Diamond is a furriner.
    2. Diamond has a combover.
    3. Diamond doesn’t know Australians have to vote.
    Can’t argue with that. Hairless non-election-law-knowing furriners. Ugh! Graham also buried some trivial stuff deep in his post.
    “He claimed during the course of the lecture that there were only four countries in the world that didn’t accept that greenhouse warming was occurring – Monaco, Lichtenstein, the US, and Australia. So what is this organisation about?”
    Perhaps Diamond had in mind the Kyoto Protocol that took effect in February, committing signatories to a 5 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 compared with 1990 levels. On January 1, the European Union trade in carbon credits began. Australia and the United States are the only developed nations to remain aloof from this co-ordinated response to climate change.
    Australia’s setting up a government Greenhouse Office is just an empty gesture. President Bush often comments that climate change is complicated and it “needs more study”. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9444-2005Feb8.html
    In the US, like Australia, the government is spending millions of dollars studying global warming. And then political appointees water down the studies’ conclusions to suit political donors. http://www.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,12374,1502485,00.html
    Hope that helped you out, Graham. Call if you need any more help translating American.

    Comment by Svejk — June 15, 2005 @ 5:10 am

  11. I see you’re continuing the theme of the ignorant American Svejk. Australia is meeting its Kyoto commitments without signing up to the protocol. You can accept greenhouse, as I do, and realise that the Kyoto protocol is a waste of everyone’s time. Perhaps you could look up the statistics on those countries who signed it and see how many of them are likely to meet their commitments.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 15, 2005 @ 11:01 pm

  12. I wouldn’t say “worst combover”, at least it manages to cover his head, while most of them look dispersed and spiderish. Jokes aside, I can’t see nothing wrong in Diamond, is it really in Tv all days? I don’t think so, but he would deserve it.

    Comment by Ingmar — May 9, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  13. I have read his book on Germs and Steel. OK.

    Even as it would be difficult to follow the most brilliant professor if he drooled, it was difficult to follow Professor Diamond because his hair got in the way.

    He must have Asperger’s because any normal human being with no hair on top would get a crew cut and not walk about that way.

    The humble Farmer
    785 River Road
    St. George, ME 04860

    Comment by Robert Karl Skoglund — October 23, 2013 @ 8:07 am

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