My latest Science Progress column sets Bobby Jindal’s latest comments mocking volcano monitoring in the context of longstanding attacks on individual scientific grants–which goes all the way back to Senator William Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece” awards, if not further. While this tradition is to some extent bipartisan, it has certainly been more honored of late by conservatives, as the examples of John McCain’s and Sarah Palin’s sneering at grizzly bear and fruit fly research during the campaign show. Or as I put it:
In each case–as with Jindal–experts patiently explained that this research serves a purpose and is eminently defensible, or even innovative. But it seems those who lampoon individual scientific research grants rarely bother to find out what they’re actually criticizing. It’s a point and blast–or point and laugh–technique that reeks of deep anti-intellectualism.
You can read the full column here.
Guest post by Brian Hare, Evolutionary Anthropologist at Duke University
Last month, a 200 pound male chimpanzee named Travis mauled a woman outside the home where he has been living with his owner Sandra Herold. Charla Nash was nearly killed by Travis and now has life changing wounds to her face while Travis was stabbed by his owner with a butcher knife and shot dead by the police.
Was this incidence preventable or just a freak accident? Should chimpanzees and other primates be kept as pets? What is the effect of the primate pet trade not only on the welfare of these “pets” but on their species survival in the wild? To answer these question I consider what science has to say and draw on both my own work on domestication and over 50 years of research by primatologists on wild chimpanzees.
Domesticated animals are biologically different
Most people keep domesticated animals, whether it’s a dog, cat or a cow. We know the biological systems in their bodies that control stress responses are down regulated relative to wild animals. This means that the average dog, cat, cow, etc. stays much more calm in a stressful situation than a wolf, lion or buffalo in the same situation. Because domesticated animals do not become as stressed, they rarely if ever attack humans compared to wild animals. It’s true that 23 Americans died last year from dog bites, but this statistic would be many times higher if the 68 million dog owners had wolves instead. By living together with us for thousands of years domesticated animals have been bred to live together with humans relatively harmoniously.
Summary: Domestication is the process of breeding out aggression
Chimpanzees are not domesticated animals
Although chimpanzees share more DNA in common with humans than they do with gorillas, they are not domesticated animals. So while a tiny percentage of pet dogs will bite a human,- all chimpanzees and all primates will readily bite a human. Moreover, chimpanzees in captivity can weigh between 150-220 pounds, live for over 60 years, and grow to be many times stronger than any human. In the wild, chimpanzees spend a lot of time defending their social status – they often seriously injure each other in fights (biting off fingers, testicles, face tissue, etc) and are known to occasionally hunt and kill rivals and their infants. After 50 years of research on wild chimpanzees we now know that, like people, while they are extremely social and prefer peace they can also be extremely violent – sometimes leading to murder.
Summary: Wild chimpanzees kill each other…it is in their nature.
Why do people think chimps make good pets?
Baby chimpanzees look a lot like human babies. They have fingers and toes, and they laugh and pout- they are adorable. People who sell chimpanzees as pets sell babies because no one would ever buy a 200 pound adult chimpanzee. Travis was bought as a baby from a group of trainers who used infant chimpanzees in TV commercials and in children’s birthday parties. Chimpanzee breeders are in the business of selling chimpanzees (~$50,000 each) not educating their customers about the hazards of pet ownership. In addition, Hollywood hires infant chimpanzees to star in movies that show them as cute human imitations. Currently, there are over 700 pet chimpanzees in US homes of unknown origin (i.e. they may be smuggled from Africa). Many of these chimp live decades in horrible conditions and present a real risk to neighbors. ALL primates potentially carry diseases deadly to humans including Herpes B, Yellow Fever, Monkeypox, Ebola virus, Marburg virus, SIV, HIV and tuberculosis.
Summary: Breeders and hollywood portray infant chimpanzees as suitable pets
Mike Dunford has the details, based on Congressional Quarterly‘s reporting. There are apparently multiple senators blocking two of Obama’s key science appointees from taking their posts. This is outrageous–a totally new kind of “war on science”–and we need a full court press. Details here.