Christmas shopping for the kids just got a lot easier!

All kids love log!

Have you heard the pseudo-scientific news?  Human girls are biologically programmed to play with dollies like little mommies!  A recent study suggests that female juvenile chimps play with sticks and nurture them like babies, whereas male juveniles turn their sticks into weapons or other manly toys–it’s scientifically proven.  Echidne has the goods, as I knew she would.  She’s got an interesting follow-up post on a 2007 study of a Senagalese chimp community that found that female adult chimps led the way in tool-making and killing in their communities–but as she notes, that study didn’t go viral now, did it?  She writes, “[I]t’s every bit as significant as the new stick study, only it shows female chimps as tool makers and as killers. So are we going to draw conclusions about human society from that one, too?”

One of the aspects of these studies that purport to show the essential or biological basis for gendered behaviors in humans is how selective we are in looking to the non-human animal kingdom for justification of human behaviors.  After all, what is “natural” behavior?  $hitting outdoors, scratching our crotches, and smearing our scent everywhere is “natural,” I suppose.  Human societies have developed multiple different technologies and etiquettes for dealing with all of these “natural” needs and urges. 

Well, never mind the study from one community that suggests that female chimps are natural born tool-makers and killers.  Because of course the play of one community of chimps living in captivity can stand for all of chimpanzees worldwide, and juvenile chimps are the same as human girls and boys, all you need to get for the kiddies this Christmas is one stick each, and sit back and watch the fun happen!  (Is anyone else thinking of this classic from the 1990s cartoon, Ren and Stimpy?)

0 thoughts on “Christmas shopping for the kids just got a lot easier!

  1. In a little-known follow-up to this exciting study, researchers at a leading English university (TM) have found that walking stick insects of both sexes find this chimp behaviour so odious and alarming and just plain perverse that they are three times as likely to infest chimpanzee habitats with populations above 3.5 animals per acre than similar ones below the 2.5 per acre threshold. The scientists hypothesize that this is some sort of a collective defense behaviour designed to confuse the stick-hugging chimps while simultaneously lowering the nutritional carrying capacity of the nearby undergrowth. The study will be published online on the _Science_ website some Tuesday in January. With a rebuttal and an afterword from an association of angry Zoological Primatologists.


  2. When some supposed scientific study is being touted by those with massive personal, economic, and/or societal interest in its conclusions–such as d00dly d00d evolutionary psychologists and the credulous dumfucke “journalists” that love them–and it just so happens that those conclusions give “scientific” cover for some aspect of the status quo that fuckes over some particular class of human being–women love babies/men love killing, black people are unintelligent, jews are greedy and cunning, etc–the default should be extreme skepticism. Because so far, this shitte has *always* turned out to be a complete load of steaming motherfucke.


  3. Naturally, this kind of story inspires my creative tool-making tendencies. Maybe I’ll get a board, embed some nails and go chasing idiotic reporters & pundits down the street?


  4. Following CPP, another reference. A review of the 2006 book “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine:

    Young, Rebecca M. and Evan Balaban, 2006. Psychoneuroindoctrinology, Nature, 443(7112), 634.

    The review requires library access but here is the final paragraph:

    “Ultimately, this book, like others in its genre, is a melodrama. Common beliefs are recast as imperilled and then saved. Stark, predictable protagonists (an initial “cast of neuro-hormone characters” that reads like a guide to astrological signs) interact linearly with foreseeable results. The melodrama obscures how biology matters; neither hormones nor brains are pink or blue. Our attempts to understand the biology of human behaviour cannot move forward until we try to explain things as they are, not as we would like them to be.”


  5. See, this is why I ended up an English prof instead of an ethologist (= study of animal behavior) like I once wanted to be. The crazy assumption making and conclusion jumping — and the total lack of awareness that they were doing it — drove me *crazy*. If they’d at least been *aware* and started at least *trying* to account for cultural assumptions and biases, maybe I could have dealt with it (the way I deal with “classic” lit crit that assumes that the reader is a hetero male and therefore desires the heroine the way the hero does, for example — by considering it in its historical contexts and knowing there are other readings out there). But that doesn’t seem to be the case in animal studies. It’s so retrograde in its assumptions about gender, family, social structures, etc. I even took an “animal behavior in zoos” class and work with the local zoo as a volunteer researcher when I was having my quarter-life crisis while writing my dissertation. I thought maybe the field had changed since the 1990s, as everything else had, and was worried I’d given up on my first love too soon. But nope. Still the same, despite the fact that all the people I was working with were women. *headdesk*


  6. We have to calm down and treat science more realistically. Science is not the result published in a scientific journal, distinguished or not, but whether anyone remembers the result a year after publication.

    Thousand of experiments and other results are published or announced every year; 99 out 100 of these are totally worthless (or as we refined academic call it: shit).

    A dog singing “white xmas” is not real scientific news unless the dog can follow by “take me out to the ball park.”

    Merry Xmas to all those who celebrate the holiday. (This country has millions of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Pagans in Delaware who don’t.)


  7. Ugh, I heard this story teased on NPR yesterday as I was driving home for the holidays and I literally punched the dashboard and then changed the station. Some scientists observe a couple dozen primates, find evidence that girls are just girly and boys are just boyish, and then go running to credulous media sources. Here’s my question for Echidne, CPP, Grad Student, and any other “hard” scientists out there: how are these people who churn out gender-bias-reifying animal behavior/evolutionary biology studies to feed to the media viewed within their fields? Are there any truly eminent names who do this kind of stuff?


  8. Thanks for the links and citations to the book reviews, CPP and truffula. Looks like I’ll be picking those up from the library next month!

    Dr. Virago’s comments on ethology are interesting. It seems like one should be trained in anthropology before going into that field. (I’m just sayin’.)

    Looks like there should be a big pre-Christmas rally on the New York Stick Exchange! There will be lots of happy little boys and girls all over the world this year. . . (Does nobody else remember the “Log” commercials in Ren & Stimpy cartoons? What about the fake advertisement for the game, “Don’t Whizz on the Electric Fence?” That was a classic.


  9. I totally remember the Log! And miss Ren and Stimpy.

    I clicked through to the article’s abstract online (unfortunately I can’t access the whole article). The abstract is a little… problematic. It’s seriously clear to me that neither author has a firm grip on the concept of culture or on conducting cross-cultural comparisons (which arguably this is).

    There are tons of arrrrgh moments just in the abstract, but my main beefs are:

    1. Dolls, wheeled toys, and pretend weaponry are not sticks. And vice versa.

    2. Monkeys are not apes are not children.

    3. Monkeys understand human cultural constructs of female/male and what symbolic objects are associated with them? Really? For ALL human cultures? Pretty awesome.

    4. Sex and gender are so very not the same thing.

    5. Monkeys and apes have had millions of years of evolution, just like us. They’re not time capsules. Discuss.

    6. How exactly does one carry a stick “in a manner suggestive of rudimentary doll play”?

    7. Neither author apparently has daughters who have cut Barbie’s hair, popped off her head, and buried her in the back garden.


  10. Neither author apparently has daughters who have cut Barbie’s hair, popped off her head, and buried her in the back garden.

    Or DID this as little girls! (Or, not so little girls. I’ll have to post a photo of Creepy Doll Head garden in hibernation soon.)

    There’s a lot of aggression in modern American girls’ doll play, that’s for sure.


  11. Are girls allowed to want puppies for Christmas, or is that a guy thing? Or, wait, are post-menopausal girls considered guys and therefore allowed to want puppies for Christmas. Help me out here, folks. Santa really needs to know what to bring to Roxie’s World for Christmas!

    Happy holidays to all y’all over here in mondo d’Historiann. Here’s to peace, happiness, and a totally gay military in the coming year!


  12. Also reminds me of a great essay: Londa Schiebinger, “The Gendered Ape,” in The Graph of Sex and the German Text (Rodopi, 1994) It seems little changes.


  13. Ch4rlie–I can say that I know of exactly zero evolutionary psychologists who are well-respected in the field. Most of us find their type of “science” to be highly questionable, biased, and full of cultural assumptions. There is a lot of good that can come from evolutionary biology, but evopsych is pretty much nonsense.


  14. Grad Student: that’s what I hoped, but it’s a huge relief to hear. It’s depressing how a few charlatans lurking on the fringes of other field have such a huge media megaphone. I’m definitely going to read Elizabeth and Nikki’s suggested readings (thanks, BTW).


  15. Quoth CPP:
    “Because so far, this shitte has *always* turned out to be a complete load of steaming motherfucke.”

    And quoth Grad Student:
    “Most of us find their type of ‘science’ to be highly questionable, biased, and full of cultural assumptions. There is a lot of good that can come from evolutionary biology, but evopsych is pretty much nonsense.”

    I think I can safely cede most of my comment space to these two good gentlepeople. I will observe, however, that one can get the bizarre impression that ev psychs are actually respected scientists, if one makes the error of speaking to one of them about it. The punishing stream of blatherskite that will result from such an interaction should serve the querent as a deterrent.


  16. I came back to comment again because I felt a little bad about bashing *all* of ethology, especially since for Christmas I got and eagerly read (and have already finished) Alexandra Horowitz’s _Inside of a Dog_. She’s an ethologist and she’s seems to be pretty sophisticated in thinking about the assumptions underlying a lot of her field. But then she was a *philosophy* major as an undergrad, so she thinks like a humanities *and* a science person. The one thing that made me slap my head, though, was when she claimed “he” was a gender-neutral pronoun, which she would be using unless she was speaking about a specifically female dog. *headdesk* But aside from that one crazy-making moment, I really enjoyed the book.

    And now I want to be an ethologist again. Or maybe not. Horowitz is currently a term assistant professor and in psychology, not animal science, so sounds like the job market for ethologists is just as messed up as any other. Then again, she wrote a NYT best selling books, so she’s doing OK. (Note to self: start finding research projects that you can turn into best-selling general audience books!)

    Anyway, if you want to read smart general-audience work on animal behavior and/or if you’re a dog lover, I recommend the book.


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