Animal minds Intelligent Design

Claims about flawed science and ape intelligence

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Okay, so onto a more normal science subject than whether Evergreen State College in Washington (state) should be declared a state pen on account of the fact that biology prof Weinstein can’t go back there for his own safety (no guff, apparently).

So let’s talk about science, as such, rather than the latest fashions in campus jackboots:

From ScienceDaily:

Dr Leavens said: “The fault underlying decades of research and our understanding of apes’ abilities is due to such a strongly-held belief in our own superiority, that scientists have come to believe that human babies are more socially capable than ape adults. As humans, we see ourselves as top of the evolutionary tree. This had led to a systematic exaltation of the reasoning abilities of human infants, on the one hand, and biased research designs that discriminate against apes, on the other hand.

“Even when apes clearly outperform young human children, researchers tend to interpret the apes’ superior performance to be a consequence of inferior cognitive abilities.

“There is not one scientifically sound report of an essential species difference between apes and humans in their abilities to use and understand clues from gestures, for example. Not one.

“This is not to say such a difference won’t be found in future, but much of the existing scientific research is deeply flawed.”Paper. (public access) – David A. Leavens, Kim A. Bard, William D. Hopkins. The mismeasure of ape social cognition. Animal Cognition, 2017; DOI: 10.1007/s10071-017-1119-1More.

So why aren’t apes after our jobs, suing us for custody of baby apes, complaining about science imperialism or …? Look, the science may or may not be flawed but the apes are just not very bright, no matter what tests we want to do.

See also: Are apes entering the Stone Age?

7 Replies to “Claims about flawed science and ape intelligence

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    It sounds like that pesky sense of human exceptionalism getting in the way of good science. On the other hand, don’t people here believe that humanity is exceptional so that should be a good thing, shouldn’t it?

  2. 2
    Axel says:

    All the more pathetic in the context of man’s maturation being the slowest among mammals – certainly in relation to that of apes.

  3. 3
    clehrhoff says:

    Not much of a response to Science Daily. We already knew apes don’t make good bridge partners. Must be a slow news day.

  4. 4
    vmahuna says:

    “There is not one scientifically sound report of an essential species difference between apes and humans in their abilities to use and understand clues from gestures, for example. Not one”

    Um, what about the oft cited fact that dogs react to humans point a finger at something and apes do not?

    Or is the writer simply being really picky about what he accepts as a “scientifically sound report”?

    And there are lots of studies that show that by age 3 or 4 human children are miles ahead of the smartest apes and from then on the gap simply gets larger.

    In fact, the last I read, the ENTIRE field of human-ape communication has been written off as wildly and fundamentally flawed. The successes claimed decades back turned out to be a combination of wishful thinking and endless variations on “Tarzan give Cheetah banana. Cheetah want banana.” My dog is that smart: when it’s dinner time, he brings me his empty bowl and gives me the “PLEASE, Daddy” eyes.

  5. 5
    News says:

    vmahuna at 3, many cats are ahead even of that. They will obligingly open any package they can physically open and consume the contents without consulting anyone. They tend to be stymied by packages that require fingers.

    What makes the ape intelligence field, um, less than rigorous is that the kind of intelligence apes have is of precisely that sort – though probably enhanced. Casuistical experiments aimed at showing that apes can somehow abstract, for example, don’t address the fact that apes do not attempt to do so in daily life, whereas even the dullest human being must do so, if only to get on with other humans.

  6. 6
    jstanley01 says:

    It looks like our jobs are safe, from being taken over from apes at least. But from what I can tell, it looks like rats are the best for animal studies because of a wide range of similarities that they share with humans. Go figure…

    Rats!
    PMC – May/June 2009
    by Philip M. Iannaccone, and Howard J. Jacob

    …As a model of human disease, the rat offers many advantages over the mouse and other organisms. In fact, rats were once the most widely used organism in medical research, and the successful isolation of rat ES (embryo-derived stem) cells will quickly expand their utility. The rat is an excellent model for cardiovascular disease, particularly for stroke and hypertension, and there are a variety of genetic stocks that are ideal for these studies. The physiology is easier to monitor in the rat and, over time, a volume of data has developed that will take years to be replicated in the mouse. Moreover, in many cases, the physiology is more like the corresponding human condition. In studies of cognition and memory, the rat is superior to other models because the physiological systems involved in learning and memory have been so extensively studied in this animal. The rat is more intelligent than the mouse and is capable of learning a wider variety of tasks that are important to cognitive research. The size of the animal enhances its use as a disease model, not just because of the ability to perform surgical procedures, but also because of the proportional size of important substructures in organs that affects both how much of the organ is involved in an experimental lesion and the distance effects of drug administration to specific anatomical areas. This is particularly important in the central nervous system. The rat models of breast cancer are superior to those in the mouse insofar as they are hormone responsive with histopathology and have premalignant stages that more closely resemble the human disease. The rat is the primary model for mechanistic studies of human reproduction. In models of diabetes, the rat model behaves more like the human disease in important ways, including the ability of environmental agents (e.g. toxins, stress, diet and vaccination) to modify the disease. For drug studies, the size of the rat enables serial blood draws. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but gives a sense of the depth and range of use for this animal model…

  7. 7
    Eugene S says:

    Seversky

    Your comment is too emotionally loaded: you used “pesky” and “good” in one sentence. Is it a manifestation of a significant cognitive bias? 😉

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