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Hemispheres Colliding 
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Post Hemispheres Colliding
Sorry if this don't make much sense. But been travelling for eleven hours.
I find Diamond tends to give contradictory interpretation of the evidence. For example, on page 364 he states that if a mere 100 pioneering Native Americans had crossed the Canadian border, they would have saturated the continent within a thousand years, reaching the southern tip of South America after only 700 years. Yet on page 190 he claims that the spread of native crops was slowed by environmental barriers.
He also claims on page 184 that man and animals are also adapted to latitude features of climate. so why did early man apparently make the North - South journey in the Americas with such relative ease?
Also, he continually cites malaria as one of the diseases which Eurasians had no resistance to, while natives of tropical areas did, but malaria in only the recent past has been restricted to tropical areas. It was present in UK and Europe until quite recently.


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Sun Dec 11, 2011 4:55 pm
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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
I wondered about that discrepancy, too, but I'm recalling a passage much earlier in the book, where Diamond is speaking in favor if the "recent" hypothesis regarding humans' arrival in the Western Hemisphere. He says that given the rate of advance needed to get from the Bering Strait to Tierra del Fuego, hunter-gatherers would not have been pressed to make it within the necessary timeframe. So the north-south axis wasn't much of a barrier for hunting-gathering groups, but it was, according to him, for food producers. We could ask him about this if we had the opportunity for a chat. It could be that it's the latitudinal differences that made crop diffusion so difficult, as well as the necessarily much slower and more difficult movement of settled groups to new areas. The crops have to grow in the new territories in order for the groups to migrate at all, I suppose. When Diamond talks about the easy diffusion of crops across Eurasia, is he actually talking about diffusion of people? Sometimes, I guess, but it probably not always.

There certainly are items in the book that seem contradictory. Whether these are apparent or real, I'm not sure. One I may have identified recently is the discussion of the Fayu bands in Chapter 14, set alongside the example of the Morioris in Chapter 2. It was the smallness of the territory and the scarcity of food that made the Morioris turn toward nonconfrontational social customs, says Diamond. Then why did the Fayu, in apparently similar circumstances, take the opposite route and murder so many of their society? It can be easy to read back a cause into a given result, but at least in this instance, it doesn't seem justified to say that lack of resources or land is determinative of any particular outcome.

Does your observation of inconsistencies lead you to draw any conclusions about his theory in general? Do the mistakes seriously weaken it, or are you waiting until you've read it all before judging?

I hope your long trip was for pleasure and that you enjoyed it.


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Sun Dec 11, 2011 9:47 pm
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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
heledd wrote:
Sorry if this don't make much sense. But been travelling for eleven hours.
I find Diamond tends to give contradictory interpretation of the evidence. For example, on page 364 he states that if a mere 100 pioneering Native Americans had crossed the Canadian border, they would have saturated the continent within a thousand years, reaching the southern tip of South America after only 700 years. Yet on page 190 he claims that the spread of native crops was slowed by environmental barriers.
He also claims on page 184 that man and animals are also adapted to latitude features of climate. so why did early man apparently make the North - South journey in the Americas with such relative ease?
Also, he continually cites malaria as one of the diseases which Eurasians had no resistance to, while natives of tropical areas did, but malaria in only the recent past has been restricted to tropical areas. It was present in UK and Europe until quite recently.


These questions are fairly easy to answer. When humans first reached America after the ice age, they found a virgin continent where animals had no fear of them. So there was abundant meat, and they could rapidly move to new sources, quickly filling up the available land down to the Strait of Magellan. But plants have no similar way to move, except into adjacent suitable niches. Temperate plants in North America cannot cross the tropics to reach South America.

Malaria has always been far more prevalent in the tropics than in temperate areas, because the Anopheles mosquito does not tolerate frost. In former times the mosquito would have moved seasonally into temperate areas, but would have been killed off or reduced in winter. Malaria presented a major barrier for European settlement of warmer regions, including in the South of the USA. With global warming, malaria is moving into new areas such as the Highlands of New Guinea where resistance is not found. It used to be known as 'swamp fever' because the mozzies live in swamps. Draining marshes was a major tactic to reduce malaria before DDT. People only gain resistance by being bitten. If they survive they are less susceptible. So Europeans coming from places such as England where swamps had been drained were not exposed to malaria as children.


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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
Robert Tulip wrote:
These questions are fairly easy to answer. When humans first reached America after the ice age, they found a virgin continent where animals had no fear of them. So there was abundant meat, and they could rapidly move to new sources, quickly filling up the available land down to the Strait of Magellan. But plants have no similar way to move, except into adjacent suitable niches. Temperate plants in North America cannot cross the tropics to reach South America.

The reason for the extinction of the large mammals in America still looks like an open question, though. Saffron had referenced a study that cast doubt on the "prey naivete" theory, on which the anthropogenic theses for extinction rests regarding both America and Australia. Another question about the dispersal of people would be why, if meat was so abundant, they needed to move, rather than all become settled hunter-gatherers, as happened in the Northwest, and how they killed off such abundant species so quickly. It seems best right now not to consider this a closed case, even though the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong for humans as the agents, and even though we do know for a certainty that humans have caused some species to disappear. There is scientific argument against human causation, too.


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Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:10 am
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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
I thought the argument against human causation was political, not scientific. Arguments I have heard from indigenous communities suggest that blaming people for megafauna extinction is somehow racist against them.

The fact is that the big new world landscapes saw close correlation between human arrival and megafauna extinction.

I'm sure a lot got killed for fun, similar to the bison and the carrier pigeon, and the Tasmanian Tiger. The syndrome continued in modern times with the moa and dodo.

Megafauna had survived massive climate change over millions of years in diverse habitats. The one common factor in their extinctions was the arrival of a walking talking tool using predator.


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Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:42 am
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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
Yes, you never know what will raise sensitivities. Diamond doesn't feel this way, however, about the extinction question. He writes firmly against racism but he doesn't see extinction as an accusation, as indeed it's not. I don't have the book handy, but does Diamond admit that there isn't evidence of human association with the megafauna, i.e., bones? I'll need to check on that later, but if that evidence is lacking I think there is good reason to hold off with a conclusion.


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Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:00 pm
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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
Robert Tulip wrote:
Malaria has always been far more prevalent in the tropics than in temperate areas, because the Anopheles mosquito does not tolerate frost. In former times the mosquito would have moved seasonally into temperate areas, but would have been killed off or reduced in winter. Malaria presented a major barrier for European settlement of warmer regions, including in the South of the USA. With global warming, malaria is moving into new areas such as the Highlands of New Guinea where resistance is not found. It used to be known as 'swamp fever' because the mozzies live in swamps. Draining marshes was a major tactic to reduce malaria before DDT. People only gain resistance by being bitten. If they survive they are less susceptible. So Europeans coming from places such as England where swamps had been drained were not exposed to malaria as children.

Malaria has posed a major barrier to development in many countries not just to European settlement. People suffering with malaria or have children with malaria are usually unable to work or certainly work at less productive levels. I really don't understand how Jared Diamond can downplay the role of malaria by emphasizing the way Eurasian diseases like smallpox wiped out populations when the fact is that malaria (and other tropical diseases) have killed millions over the years and go on having such major impact even today .. the falciparum parasite is responsible for the majority of deaths but malarial illness is severe enough to reduce productivity even if caused by a less deadly strain .. here are the malaria stats for 2010 according to WHO and these figures are a substantial improvement over earlier years because over $2Billion was spent trying to provide mosquito nets, spraying and other measures:

3.3 billion people at risk (nearly half the world's population)
1.2 billion people at high risk
216 million cases of malaria
655,000 deaths of which 86% were children under 5


World Health Organization, 2011 World Malaria Report



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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
I don't recall him downplaying the devastation of malaria, but he could have. It might be that the nature of the disease is simply different than smallpox. Could malaria be less lethal than smallpox was for New World humans (even though, as shown by your stats, plenty lethal)? Could it be always debilitating but less often lethal compared to smallpox? Even though people in tropical countries had opportunity to develop immunity to the disease (unlike Europeans), it continues to be a serious threat in tropical countries, and I wonder what accounts for that.

By the way, I found that this chapter didn't seem entirely necessary. I think Diamond had pretty much made these points in earlier chapters. Maybe it was good to wrap up what he left hanging at the end of Part One, but it seems he could have done the job more quickly. I don't have any bones to pick with him regarding his major conclusion that when the hemispheres did "meet" finally, the outcome was fore-ordained.


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Last edited by DWill on Thu Dec 22, 2011 9:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
I don't think JD specifically played down the impact of endemic tropical disease, such as malaria, but rather he emphasized the role of imported Eurasian disease, which were and are incredibly lethal (I am not disputing that) ... but I think he does not do justice to the way in which endemic disease affected populations prior to outside contact and has continued after contact right up to the modern day. As you suggest, the degree of debilitation caused by a disease, in terms of development, may not be linked to how lethal it is. Sadly, the death of millions of children under 5 from malaria may have less development impact than the ongoing grind of repeated infection and illness. The economic cost of lost productivity, absenteeism, medical cost and severely reduced work-life duration is a constant grind on seriously affected countries. It's vicious cycle of disease and poverty that in turn makes dealing with disease even more difficult. WHO estimates that effectively dealing with malaria would cost over $5 billion annually, and that is just the direct cost, this does not count loss to the economies from malarial illness. Even this monumental level of spending is only $4 per person at high risk. A half decent mosquito net costs more than that. These countries are completely dependant on outside help, ie. the fickle world of political decision making, and this fact greatly decreases their ability to make independent decisions and act in the best interests of their people. I agree with JD that smallpox and other Euro disease devastated New World populations but I think that malaria and other tropical diseases that are not linked to Europeans have played a very significant role in maintaining the development disparity that we have witnessed over the last 500 years and, I suspect, for centuries before that. This disparity would exist even if Columbus had never sailed.



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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
Yet, I wonder about the inevitability of malaria being a drag on africa's development. It's not as though smallpox, for example, was only a problem for Native Amercans. I remember an old cemetery near my childhood home in Guilford, Conn., where a plaque stated that the soldiers buried there all died of smallpox during the French and Indian War. So I'm hinting that in the U.S. and the West in general, infectious diseases were effectively wiped out. That this isn't the case in many places in Africa would be due to the greater virulence of malaria, and not to historical circumstances (perhaps related to "guns, germs, and steel") that militated against the control of the disease? Diamond has a chapter on Africa, and as you can probably imagine, he has an explanation for Africa's falling behind, after having such a huge headstart as the cradle of mankind. Maybe malaria was an obstacle that in areas more favored with the right mix of domesticatable animals and plants, would have been overcome.


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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
giselle wrote:
I agree with JD that smallpox and other Euro disease devastated New World populations but I think that malaria and other tropical diseases that are not linked to Europeans have played a very significant role in maintaining the development disparity that we have witnessed over the last 500 years and, I suspect, for centuries before that. This disparity would exist even if Columbus had never sailed.


From the poking around I did on the web, I have to agree with Giselle's statement. Here is what I found on Wiki:
Ninety percent of malaria-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority of deaths being young children. Plasmodium falciparum, the most severe form of malaria, is responsible for the vast majority of deaths associated with the disease.[10] Malaria is commonly associated with poverty, and can indeed be a cause of poverty[11] and a major hindrance to economic development.

In several of the posts in this thread the idea comes up that smallpox is more deadly than malaria accounts for the more imediate and dramatic impact on world development. I do think this must be the case. I think the little blurb I posted above supports this idea. Malaria doesn't totally wipe out a group like smallpox; rather it creates and or maintains the poverty of a group. In keeping with JD's hypothethis: Malaria prevents people from engaging in activities that contribute to technological advancement or in other words keeps them in poverty - a state that prevents energy expenditure on anything more than meeting essential needs.

DW wrote:
By the way, I found that this chapter didn't seem entirely necessary. I think Diamond had pretty much made these points in earlier chapters. Maybe it was good to wrap up what he left hanging at the end of Part One, but it seems he could have done the job more quickly. I don't have any bones to pick with him regarding his major conclusion that when the hemispheres did "meet" finally, the outcome was fore-ordained.
Boy, do I agree. On the whole I think this book is way too long. I think Diamond make his case rather quickly for the impact and importance of geography on world development and then gets carried away with defending it.


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Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:32 am
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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
DWill wrote:
Diamond has a chapter on Africa, and as you can probably imagine, he has an explanation for Africa's falling behind, after having such a huge headstart as the cradle of mankind. Maybe malaria was an obstacle that in areas more favored with the right mix of domesticatable animals and plants, would have been overcome.

I have an issue with JD's 'headstart' idea -- generally, he uses the progress of technology as a measure of the advance of a society (and I have some qualms about this too), but if one takes technological progress as a valid measure then we have to consider how such progress occurs. I think we could find many cases where technology is acquired and adapted quickly, in mere years or decades, and cases where technology has 'leapfrogged' and societies benefited by acquiring an advanced technology without having adopted the intermediate technology. Also, often we are not dealing with technology in its pure form but rather the application of that technology -- so the advantage of a headstart with a technology could be eliminated by relatively fast application of that technology by another group. Finally, the efficacy of a technology will depend on the extent of 'supports' for the application of the technology, for example, education, service infrastructure etc. So, I think the idea of a 'headstart' giving a particular group an advantage is questionable. The advantage could fade away almost overnight and the tables could be turned.

With regards to malaria, a couple points. Historically, malaria is responsible for death and sickness in much of the tropical world and parts of the temperate world. It is still responsible for widespread illness and its limitation to sub-saharan Africa as a killer is more recent. Malaria is somewhat opportunistic in that one's general health standard makes a big difference when it comes to recovery chances ... so in that respect in not only 'causes' poverty but poverty causes malaria, its a vicious circle. This is one reason that outside intervention, even in billions of dollars, has made relatively little difference ... the cycle of malaria and poverty feeds upon itself and interventions, even massive interventions, fail to interupt the cycle. I don't know if one can compare the severity of diseases by body count alone, I think we have to look at the preponderance of factors to make a fair assessment. With respect to to the availability of domestic animals, this may well be a factor because the efficiency of food production will influence the availability and cost of food and hence nutritional intake and ability to fight infection including malaria. I am doubtful about the development of resistance to malaria, perhaps this is true to a limited extent, but I'd have to read upon it more.

We don't have a thread for the 'epilogue' so I will insert one comment here. JD takes an interesting direction in the epilogue by discussing the question of the future of history as a science. I think he makes some good arguments but I am troubled by his basic idea that science has set the bar and that other areas of research and thought are only validated if they can be validated 'scientifically'. I would propose that history is better off being treated as a social science, outside the circle of natural science, and that sound methodology and validation of historical studies will be found within the frame of social science.



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Post Re: Hemispheres Colliding
Those are great points, Giselle. I want to ask what is the true significance of a headstart to Diamond. It isn't my understanding that he thinks the headstart (i.e, in food production followed inevitably by technology) is any permanent advantage that enables the early starter to always maintain the competitive advantage. I think he sees that the lower levels of development that exist at any given time have made some societies vulnerable to opportunistic stronger societies. He says that given enough time, the New World societies conquered by the Spaniards might have become advanced enough to better repel such an attack (although if they lacked powerful germs of their own, probably not). The point is that everything occurred in relation. If a country was a hundred years ahead of another at a given time, that could be bad news for it, even if two hundred years later that country had been able to catch up.

You are really well informed about the malaria plague in Africa. I can't quite tell whether you see malaria in terms of geographic determinism, as Diamond might. Is there something inherent in malaria that makes it, above all other diseases, the worst? I can't help thinking that given different political conditions there and in the wealthy nations, the disease would not be the scourge that it still is.

I see what Diamond has been doing all along in the book as applying a scientific approach. Even when he isn't citing scientific research, his method is scientific in the broad sense. That's why I'm not bothered by his history as science. Although history will never be able to reach the empirical certainties of physical science, by using the structured methods of science, we can perhaps establish some general truths that escaped us when we were just winging it.


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Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:21 pm
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