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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cross-Fostering and the March of Time

This morning, Bow asked to go outside early and started his display on the swing.

For people who are not accustomed to chimpanzee displays, it can seem frightening or be interpreted as a sign of aggression. Bow makes it very clear that what he  means is: "I am big and strong" and that his display implies no menace towards anyone who is willing to concede that, yes, he is big and strong.

In the clip above, you can see Bow displaying, then gesturing to invite me over to the bench, once the display is done. He is happy and friendly, and one of the reasons we get along so well is that I don't try to hinder him in his natural behaviors. If Bow needs to tell the world that he is big and strong, that is fine with me. I do not have any desire to stop him or to edit his message to make it more politically correct.

One of the reasons I feel no desire to engage in a shouting match with Bow over our relative strengths is that I am perfectly at peace with who I am. I am a five foot two human female, and I don't need to be stronger than a post-pubescent male chimpanzee to feel good about myself. However, I do know other people who feel threatened by another's attributes, abilities and activities, even when they have nothing to do with them.

Lately, I have seen all sorts of displays by humans about their right to edit the free speech of others. One person, who I really felt should know better, suggested burning every copy of a book, because the book contained "false" information.Who decides what is false? By what authority?  If it is false, don't you trust other people to eventually figure it out?

The argument goes something like this: Are you a government certified expert on this subject? If not, how dare you write about it? What if somebody believes you, and they get hurt? How dare you publish this recipe for poppy seed cake? What if someone uses it and gets food poisoning? What if someone reads this false interpretation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and relies on it to his detriment? Don't people need to be protected from false information?

I have no actual claim to being an expert in the culinary arts, but this does not keep me from occasionally publishing a recipe. Other people may dabble in linguistics, who are not linguists. Even though I am one, it does not bother me. That's what's great about living in a free country. One can try anything and learn from mistakes and get better at it and later publish one's findings.

What makes it okay to call something a lexigram when it looks like a word? I've written about that here:

While I do have a Ph.D in linguistics, any real claim to fame that I have as a linguist is not based on authority or certification, but on the things I have found out for myself and the information I have shared by writing about it and publishing.

We have some new readers for this blog, some of whom are unfamiliar with Project Bow and with the meaning of the term "cross-fostering", and who don't know our long history. Some of them seem to still think that Bow is a baby, and they warn me about what may happen when he turns three or five or six or seven. They don't realize that in February, he will turn thirteen. For those people, I am sharing these links, so that they may learn about our experiences at the ages they mentioned and beyond.

A Young Chimpanzee's Growth and Development

Chimpanzee Development Age Three through Five

Bow and Literacy

When I  published "When Sword Met Bow" as a book for children, the intent was not to scientifically explore the phenomenon of cross-fostering. Instead, the book was meant for anyone bringing home a new baby to help their older child with the transition. It was a lyrical picture book, intended for a young audience.

When Sword Met Bow
However, now there are people who are worried that it will encourage others to adopt chimpanzees, and one such person has seen fit to write a "review" of the book without having read it, warning about all the stages of chimpanzee development.

And here I am, wondering whether I should put on my expert hat or my libertarian hat. Should I explain that I do in fact know a great deal more about it than these people assume? Or should I simply remind them that this country was founded on the principle of live and let live?

I am a linguist and a primatologist, and I do have scholarly publications on this topic. 

But more important than any claim I might offer to expertise is this: we live in a country that was founded on the principle that all men are created equal and have the right to pursue happiness at their own expense. No expertise is required to pursue science or art, and no license is required for the publication of our results. 

Other people do not adopt chimpanzees primarily because they do not wish to do so. Chimpanzee owning citizens are a minority, but one that needs protecting.

I once sat at a restaurant with a group of scientists, among them a noted primatologist, and all of them were complaining about how hard it was to get funding. Then in the same breath, one of them said something about money being the root of all evil. 

Money is not evil. Trying to get it by force is. Respectable ape language researchers have been pushed under the bus. Their funding has run dry. They have been forced to try to escape to the private sector, but Federal regulations still leave them very much under the government oversight committees. The only hope is going totally private, and this means giving up the protections afforded by "expert" status. 

Bow is not a "pet". But it's only because private ownership is still allowed that Project Bow is possible. That  -- and the first amendment to the United States constitution -- is something I am very grateful for.

Project Bow 2015 Calendar


  1. A few years ago I used to think there was no harm in having certified experts, but now I am more dubious of this. Having a certification often just means you jumped through a few hoops to get it. It does not mean these people are more knowledgeable than others. I do like the calendar of Bow, and I am sure many chimpanzee experts or enthusiasts would enjoy having a copy.

    1. Hi, Julia. I think I feel about the same on this topic. There is nothing wrong with private professional certification, as long as no government reward or penalty is attached to same, but people do tend take certification too seriously. They forget they still have to use their own judgment as to whether or not to believe any so-called expert.

      I am so glad you like the calendar!

  2. I like your calendar too, Aya! Nice job on the pictures. I think it's great that, for example, my doctor can prove that he went to school and got the appropriate training, etc. But in the end, a certificate does NOT mean he's the absolute BEST at what he does.
    We all know that. I've seen highly technical scientists and skilled programmers during my career - some that had certificates weren't worth the paper they were printed on and other people who had no certificates were very bright and naturally skilled at what they were doing. I think every that works in a job should be judged on their abilities and not ONLY their pieces of paper on the wall.
    And I think that if every book or paper were burned because it had something "inaccurate" or "false" in it, they would probably have to burn 90+% of the books in print today.

    1. Hi, Kathy. I get treated at a clinic owned by a doctor, but the one who treats me is not a doctor. He is just a medic. I prefer seeing him, because he has been at that clinic for a long time, while the actual doctors keep changing every few years. He seems to know what he is doing, and that is good enough for me. But it's a shame he has to share the fee with his employer and can never have a clinic of his own. That is part of the reason why health care is so expensive.

      Not only would we have to burn most books, but many of us would disagree as to which books needed burning, if truth were the criterion!