Frans de Waal responds to conservatives who try to shove bonobos back into the closet

August 9, 2007 | By | 2 Replies More

World-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal is tired of reading the nonsense written by conservatives who are working hard to do the same thing to bonobos that they have been doing to climate change: change the facts to fit the politics.

Why are conservatives embarrassed by the bonobo?  Is it, perhaps, because the bonobo is “known for its ‘gay’ relations, female supremacy, and pacific life-style”?   That’s the topic of de Waal’s NYT article. 

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Category: Evolution, Politics, Science, Sex

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Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Someday, we must all realize that, to neocons, the word "science" means the opposite of what everyone else considers "science." Neocons start with an agenda, then search for whatever evidence will support that agenda. Scientists, by contrast, begin with evidence — *all* of the evidence — and then search for an explanation that will best fit the evidence. The latter is genuine science; the former is more akin to a criminal prosecutor (someone hardly known for liberal thinking) who will begin with an agenda (the goal of proving a suspect guilty) and then construct an argument to support a conviction. In the latter case, supporting facts are carefully selected, contrary facts are carefully suppressed, and the outcome (a conviction) reins supreme. In science, only the facts are supreme; the outcome (a coherent explanation for the facts) is merely a useful fiction. Scientists know that their explanations are merely useful fictions; the problem, of course, is that when a neocon looks at scientific work, the neocon assumes the scientist thinks and behaves exactly as the neocon would: begin with an agenda, then cherry-pick the facts to fit the agenda. Such reverse thinking is a big part of what causes neocons to support so many objectively defective political policies: abstinence-only sex education; intelligent design biology; murder, torture, wiretapping, etc., as tools for spreading democracy; slaughtering Muslims to reduce Islamic terrorism; imprisoning (but not curing) drug addicts to reduce drug crime; claiming to fight al Qaeda while permitting a safe haven for its leadership…the list goes on and on and on.

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    I read the New Yorker article that de Waal is (in part) responding to and I thought it was interesting and fairly neutral. It did criticize de Waal for having reached definite conclusions about bonobo behavior without having personally observed them in the wild. The main message I took away from the New Yorker article was not that the author had uncovered definite proof that bonobos are killer apes, but that what we know for sure about bonobos is not that much, that they are really hard to study in the wild, and that it probably isn't appropriate to anthropomorphize bonobos as "hippie chimps."

    Apparently conservative commentators have jumped all over the article and added their own spin, and de Waal's response may be colored by these reactions as well as to the open criticisms of his own writing.

    Of course, the "Save the Hippie Chimps" fundraiser skewered in the NY article is also an exercise in spinning. Fundraisers are usually better equipped make appeals to save fuzzy cuddly "nice" animals, than to articulate more complex messages about habitat restoration and better understanding of evolutionary biology.

    The NY article was upbeat in one way, in that researchers are now able to once again study bonobos in the field, after 10 years of violent political upheaval in the Congo. And depressing because of Gottfried Hohmann's prediction that we have less than 100 years to learn all we can about primate behavior in the wild.

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