Friday Hoyden: Jane Goodall

collage of four pictures of Jane Goodall interacting with chimps - two pics from the 1960s, two pics from recent years

Jane Goodall, primatologist

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:

Two chimpanzees grooming. One finds a human hair on the other and inquires - Conducting a little more 'research' with that Jane Goodall tramp?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.

Categories: Science, Sociology

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6 replies

  1. I’m a fan of Jane Goodall, have been for more than 30 years when I first read about how difficult it was for her to get the wild chimps to accept her presence.
    The physical difficulties, dangers and discomfort, she went through to conduct her observations earned my admiration.
    And quite a few other qualities of course.
    I have a book [“Reflections of Eden”] written by the third of Leakey’s proteges, Birute Galdikas, who did for the orangutans of Borneo what Jane has done for the chimps.
    Also an admirable scientist.
    Somewhere I have a copy of a poem, more a series of verses I suppose, written by Jane Goodall, that are humourous but also thoughtful, I copied it from her biography.
    The world owes these two, and Fossey and others like them eg the elephant lady from outside Nairobi, Cynthia Moss. She is mentioned in a informative and moving book called “Silent Thunder” by Katy Payne who discovered that elephants can communicate long distances by sub sonic calls.
    Oh and the Douglas-Hamiltons and the Grants and lots of similar people without whom the world would be much less informed.
    We need these people.

  2. Something I was surprised to learn a while back is that Jane Goodall is face-blind– she has difficulty distinguishing human faces due to neurological quirks, yet has no issue distinguishing apes, which is one of the reasons it took her so long to recognize this. I’m somewhat face-blind myself, which is one of the reasons I found this so interesting.

  3. I had the good fortune to hear Goodall speak last year (and I got to meet her very briefly). She is an amazing speaker – really inspirational, and she was very lovely in person. She is one of my all-time favorite people, someone I consider a hero (and there aren’t very many people I put in that category).

  4. My grandmother gave me books when I was a child. I didn’t think much of it when I was young. Oh, I *loved* the books, but I didn’t realize that most grandmothers didn’t give their granddaughters these books. My grandmother graduated from the University of Chicago in (I think) 1912; she was an educated woman and she gave me books that taught me and made me think in really interesting ways. I didn’t realize that, though, until she’d been long dead. That sort of makes me sad. One of the books she gave me that I read over and over was by Eugenie Clark, an ichthyologist. I *loved* that book, and at the time I didn’t realize that one of the reasons was that she was a girl. I could do that.

  5. I love Jane Goodall so much. She’s just hugely, wonderfully, fantastically awesome and I can never get enough of hearing her talk about her work and her view of the world. And a bonus, she has some really interesting views on Sasquatch/Bigfoot, which delight me no end. I’m glad she’s a Hoyden! 😀

  6. Don’t forget she’s now a rather awesome character on Irregular Webcomic! too. 🙂

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