Recent Notepad:


Outtakes, musings, marginalia and other etceterata from my foraging as a freelance science journalist. Imported from their natural habitat on this Tumblr.

Photo: Brian Skerry/National Geographic
  • More Thoughts on the Chimpanzee Personhood Lawsuit

    Several people I interviewed by email provided very thoughtful comments that ended up not fitting into my latest article on the Nonhuman Rights Project’s ongoing chimpanzee personhood lawsuit. Their comments:

    Paul Waldau,teaches animal law and ethics at Canisius College:

    "First thought—I hope Wise’s approach works, and I hope that the judges who hear the appeal are courageous. The likelihood of that on a nonhuman animal issue is fairly low, but this is not new—indeed, it has long been the prevailing reality. 

    Second thought—the legal system is a complicated place, not only because legal concepts are ancient and thus vague and part of a system that is VERY human-centered. The system is also complicated because the very structure of the system allows people (including sitting judges) to dodge issues if they see those issues as politically sensitive. So if an advocate like Wise makes arguments that seem to (or do in fact) draw on either tradition or common sense, the judge has a variety of ways to evade the mandate of tradition or common sense and, instead, do as she/he likes. The system can, frankly, be unprincipled simply an issue is “before its time” and the like. 
    This is why I started out this message with “I hope” and then mentioned the issue of a courageous judge. 
    Whatever you write, please push people to recognize that our legal system can, IF WE WANT IT TO, lead us in being responsible citizens in a more-than-human world. To date, sadly, our legal system has been a bulwark of a very dysfunctional human centeredness, just as it has so often been a mainstay of the privileged elites in our society. I think the system has SOME virtues, but frankly we, the people, must over time INSIST that those virtues are more important than political convenience and the privileges of elites who care little, if at all, about other living beings and the environment.”

    William McGrew, evolutionary primatologist at the University of Cambridge:

    "No really novel thoughts, just continuing mixture of optimism and frustration at the slow speed of grinding wheels of justice. But we must be patient. Luckily, chimpanzees continue to do amazing things that we scientists try to do our best to pass on to the world at large. It seems like every week there are new findings to impress us. All digits crossed for next week’s hearing."

    Mary Lee Jensvold, experimental psychologist and former director of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute:

    "I am struck by the diversity of responses from the judges in the various cases. Each case wasn’t simply shut down. To me this says that this is a very gray area indeed. It gives me hope that this case may move even further forward, as it is."

    Photo: Steve Wise (foreground) and Liddy Stein (background) of the Nonhuman Rights Project.

  • Among them, the major urinary proteins (MUPs) are barrel-like lipocalins excreted in urine. They bind and transport volatile molecules that may have different meanings, yet MUPs participate in transmitting different pieces of information. Therefore, they are not a simple blend of molecules but a communication system with its own rules to produce, transmit and process information.
    Message in a bottle: major urinary proteins and their multiple roles in mouse intraspecific chemical communication

  • Rapid advances in technology have lowered the cost of sequencing an individual’s genome from the several billion dollars that it cost a decade ago to just a few thousand dollars today and have correspondingly greatly expanded the use of genomic information in medicine. Because of the lack of evidence available for assessing variants, evaluation bodies have made only a few recommendations for the use of genetic tests in health care. […] However, due to insufficient evidence, it has been challenging to recommend the use of a genetic test.
    Assessing Genomic Sequencing Information for Health Care Decision Making: Workshop Summary

  • The emotion system in animals may thus have evolved by natural selection because it simultaneously enhances three important functions, the behavioural robustness of individuals, the evolvability of gene pools and the rate of evolutionary innovation at several architectural levels.
    The emotion system promotes diversity and evolvability

  • In Arabic, as in many languages, the future is “ahead” and the past is “behind.” Yet in the research reported here, we showed that Arabic speakers tend to conceptualize the future as behind and the past as ahead of them, despite using spoken metaphors that suggest the opposite.
    When You Think About It, Your Past Is in Front of You



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