Jane Goodall was probably the second female scientist I ever heard about (the first being Marie Curie) and of course amidst the fêting what I heard was that she wasn’t really a scientist at all, because she Wuz Doin’ It Rong – naming the chimpanzees she studied instead of numbering them, using feed stations to attract them for observation, getting too close to them by allowing them to groom her etc. There seemed to be also great unease about the unsuitability of her being there, going to the wild forests of Tanzania on her own at age 26 in the first place (she was actually forbidden by HM Government from going without her mother the first year (1960), luckily Vanne was up for the adventure).
But what Goodall discovered about the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park made biologists, psychologists and philosophers look more closely at the great apes and their similarities to humans, provoking redefinitions of exactly what it meant to be human, and raising the question of just how far back in pre-history should paleo-anthropologists be looking for clues to the development of human behaviours. There’s a great interview published last week at the Spectator titled ‘If we have souls, then so do chimps’ which presents a portrait of a calm (except when doing chimp impressions) and rather stately woman with a steely core, still spending 300 days a year doing animal advocacy in her mid-70s.
That’s why this is my favourite story from the Wikipedia page about her, showing her self-deprecating side:
Cartoonist Gary Larson once drew a cartoon in his The Far Side newspaper comic that showed two chimpanzees grooming. One finds a human hair on the other and inquires, “Conducting a little more ‘research’ with that Jane Goodall tramp?” The Jane Goodall Institute thought this to be in bad taste, and had their lawyers draft a letter to Larson and his distribution syndicate, in which they described the cartoon as an “atrocity.” They were stymied, however, by Goodall herself, who revealed that she found the cartoon amusing. Since then, all profits from sales of a shirt featuring this cartoon have gone to the JGI.
I found this version of the cartoon image at her Lessons For Hope website.