Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, new film reviewed


This video says about itself:

First Look at Jane | National Geographic

5 October 2017

Dr. Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking chimpanzee research redefined what it means to be human. Brett Morgen’s critically acclaimed film JANE will be released in select theaters starting Oct. 20.

Jane Goodall started her research without having any university degree: her family could not afford that. Before her work in Gombe in Tanzania, no one had ever properly studied wild chimpanzees. Goodall managed to get gradually closer and closer to the chimps, until they no longer saw her as a danger. This way, she managed to discover much about ape behavior never recorded before.

On 7 January 2018, I saw the film Jane, the 40th film ever about Jane Goodall, in a packed cinema. Much of the material is 1960s-1980s footage by Goodall’s first husband Hugo van Lawick; it was thought to have been lost, but was found again in 2014. Interviews with the main character, now that she is 83 years old, were added.

Before I write more about the movie, I have to go back 27 years; to something, not mentioned in the film, but relevant to its content.

In 1991, an article appeared in the New York Review of Books in the USA, written by Lord Zuckerman. The article claimed there were big, unbridgeable differences between humans and apes. One of the books reviewed in the article is Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, by Jane Goodall. Lord Zuckerman attacked Ms Goodall for being supposedly ‘anthropomorphic’ about chimpanzees.

Who was Lord Zuckerman? Lord Solly Zuckerman (1904–1993) was a South Africa-born British zoologist and military strategist. I don’t know if he ever made any mistakes in military strategy. He certainly made major mistakes in zoology. More precisely, about Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, thirty years before his New York Review of Books article.

Lord Zuckerman, like most establishment scientists until the 1960s, believed there was absolute patriarchal male supremacy among chimpanzees. Jane Goodall’s research proved that theory was not completely right. One may argue that Zuckerman himself was ‘guilty’ of anthropomorphism. Though different anthropomorphism from what he accused Jane Goodall of, as he projected human patriarchal societies into the world of chimpanzees and other animals.

A 2014 interview with Jane Goodall mentions:

If her [Goodall’s] Cambridge colleagues had been patronizing, it was nothing compared to the treatment she received at a symposium on primates held at the Zoological Society of London in April 1962. “I gave my first scientific presentation and was terrified, says Goodall. “I practiced for hours,” she says. “I was determined not to read and not to say ‘er’ or ‘um.’ I have remained true to that ever since.”

After three days of talks, the meeting came to a close with a speech by Sir Solly Zuckerman, an anatomist who had studied monkeys in Africa, and gone on to become secretary of the Society and chief science adviser to the Ministry of Defence. Although Goodall had been well received, Zuckerman took the opportunity to fire a volley of pointed comments at the twentysomething newcomer.

“There are those who are here and who prefer anecdote—and what I must confess I regard as sometimes unbounded speculation,” he told his audience, as recounted in Dale Peterson’s biography of Goodall, The Woman Who Redefined Man. “In scientific work it is far safer to base one’s major conclusions and generalizations on a concordant and large body of data than on a few contradictory and isolated observations, the explanation of which sometimes leaves a little to be desired.”

On the morning of 7 January 2018, Dutch primatologist Jan van Hooff told Vroege Vogels radio about his memories of that meeting. Jane Goodall had discovered that chimpanzees use tools. And not only use tools: make tools. That contradicted the establishment science consensus that only humans use tools. Louis Leakey said Ms Goodall’s research made it necessary to redefine humans. If one defines a human as Homo faber, the tool user, then chimpanzees should be called humans as well (later discoveries found that not only chimpanzees but also other animal species make and use tools).

Jane Goodall also discovered that chimpanzees sometimes eat meat, hunting other animals.

Lord Zuckerman was livid, Jan van Hooff recalls. The noble lord stormed toward biologist Desmond Morris, who had invited Jane Goodall, and said: ‘Who has invited this stupid wench to talk nonsense here? Everyone knows that chimpanzees do not make tools. Everyone knows that chimpanzees eat only plants.’

Van Hooff and Morris responded politely, Van Hooff remembers. As it is not clever to sharply contradict a secretary of the Zoological Society of London who is a nobleman as well.

The 2014 interview says:

This was not Goodall’s first run-in with Zuckerman. At the end of 1961, there had been a press conference at London Zoo to announce her preliminary findings—and she had hatched a plan to use this public platform to call for an improvement in the conditions of the captive chimps at the zoo. “There was a bare cage with a cement floor,” she explains. During the summer months, the chimps had no shade: “It got boiling hot and there was only one platform, the other had broken, so the male got that and the female had to sit on the floor. It was horrible.”

Before the meeting, over dinner with the diplomat Malcolm MacDonald (who had visited her briefly in Gombe and would become governor-general of Kenya in 1963), Goodall shared her intention to champion the welfare of the captive chimps: “I was really excited.”

But MacDonald, with his experience as a politician, could see a flaw. Speaking out on behalf of the chimps to a packed auditorium would be a direct criticism of Zuckerman’s leadership of the zoo. “Do you think he’s going to allow a little whipper-snapper who doesn’t even have a degree to tell him he’s in the wrong?” Goodall recalls MacDonald telling her. “You’ll make an enemy for life, and you don’t want an enemy like that.”

Instead, Goodall suggested several simple changes to the chimps’ enclosure that would improve their welfare, and MacDonald worked behind the scenes to see them implemented. “What I learned then is: Don’t let people lose face, don’t try to do something publicly until you’ve tried every which way to do it quietly. I’ve found that so helpful to me”, she says …

Naturally, Zuckerman took the credit for the improvements to the chimps’ enclosure. “I don’t mind two hoots as long as it gets done”, Goodall says.

Decades later, Professor Jan van Hooff asked his Dutch biology students who knew who Lord Zuckerman was. Not one student’s hand was raised. Then, he asked who knew about Jane Goodall. All hands went up. ‘So, you see’, Van Hooff said.

The film shows how Jane Goodall went into the Tanzanian forest alone. How good she was at climbing trees. That she was not afraid of snakes, including poisonous snakes, as they usually don’t bite unless you step on them. That she got to know the chimpanzees better and better, starting the longest ever continuous research of wild animals, continuing till now. She recorded how chimpanzees were born, grew up and died. She differentiated between individual characters; another one of her innovations.

National Geographic sent Hugo van Lawick to Gombe to film and photograph her work. This brought Jane Goodall and ‘her’ chimpanzees to the cover of the magazine. Hugo and Jane fell in love; married; went to national parks like Serengeti together; got a son; and eventually divorced.

In 2009, Michael Barker wrote this criticism of Jane Goodall:

In October 2008 the world renowned primatologist and United Nations Messenger of Peace, Jane Goodall, traversed Australia, regaling packed houses with stories from her latest autobiographical book, Hope for Nature. Undertaking such whirlwind tours is the norm for Goodall. On average she spends some 300 days a year on the global lecture circuit to raise funds for her wide-ranging charitable activities. This gruelling schedule means that rather than conducting chimpanzee research, speaking engagements have tended to dominate her life over the past several decades. In an interview conducted last year by The Sydney Morning Herald she was asked what had prompted her to make this serious lifestyle change in the 1980s, Goodall replied:

Realising that chimpanzees were becoming extinct — the forests were going — and realising that the environmental and social problems of Africa could often be laid at the door of the elite communities around the world.

Yet despite recognizing that elites present a serious threat to the environment, she is adamant that the same elites will, with a little support from the public, provide the solutions to the very problems that they have created.

Bearing Goodall’s evidently optimist outlook in mind, it is fitting that she formerly served as a board member of the Humane Society of the U.S., a group that describes itself as “the nation’s largest… animal protection organization,” and is well supported by the elite community that Goodall apparently rails against. Here it is informative to point out that one particularly notable board member of the Humane Society is David Jhirad, who is currently the vice president for research and evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation — an influential philanthropic group that happens to be a key democracy-manipulating organisation (see my earlier article “Pacifying Civil Society“). In addition to holding this influential position, Jhirad acts as the executive vice president of The Gemstar Group, an organisation that, according to their Web site, “work[s] with partners around the world in implementing market-based approaches to global environmental problems.” The president of The Gemstar Group, William Nitze, served as deputy assistant secretary of state for environment in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. …

Barker names other supporters of environment-destroying corporate capitalism, Big Oil corporation bigwigs etc. apparently trying to do ‘greenwashing‘ by associating with Dr Goodall’s pro-environment work. Work that apparently faces dilemmas like the WWF in Spain: which made King Juan Carlos its boss, only to discover that His Majesty killed elephants, and then having to sack him.

Barker concludes:

To surmise: the shady connections outlined within this article do not provide evidence to contradict the fact that Jane Goodall is a passionate and vocal orator on all things environmental. All the same, in spite of her evident passion, it seems more than probable that the message of hope that Goodall preaches worldwide is unlikely to promote environmental solutions that seriously challenge corporate power.

Maybe Ms Goodall’s 1961 experience of improving the London Zoo chimpanzees’ situation without a confrontation with the zoo establishment caused her to be over-optimistic on achieving change without confrontations with establishments. She supports the Green party in Britain; which sometimes does criticize the establishment, but sometimes does not go far enough in that.

Jane Goodall upset the scientific establishment and their wrong ideas. Unfortunately, she only partly sees through political and economic establishments and their wrong practices.

Anyone who peruses relationship settings on social media knows that our interactions with other humans can be intricate, but a new study in Nature: Scientific Reports suggests that researchers may be overlooking some of these same complexities in the social relations of our closest primate relatives, such as chimpanzees and macaques: here.

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10 thoughts on “Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, new film reviewed

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