The Primate Diaries

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Notes on science, politics, and history from a primate in the human zoo.

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  • November 17, 2011
  • 07:23 AM
  • 648 views

Social Networks Matter: Friends Increase the Size of Your Brain

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

New research confirms that social complexity enriches cognitive growth. Could having more Facebook friends actually make you smarter? Let’s face it, as a species we’re obsessed with ourselves. The vast majority of us spend our days at work or school where a considerable amount of time is taken up not discussing the important issues of [...]









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Sallet, J., Mars, R., Noonan, M., Andersson, J., O'Reilly, J., Jbabdi, S., Croxson, P., Jenkinson, M., Miller, K., & Rushworth, M. (2011) Social Network Size Affects Neural Circuits in Macaques. Science, 334(6056), 697-700. DOI: 10.1126/science.1210027  

  • November 10, 2011
  • 05:45 AM
  • 777 views

Scientific Ethics and Stalin’s Ape-Man Superwarriors

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

Author’s Note: The following originally appeared at archy. The anti-Darwin industry among fundamentalist Christians has produced thousands of pages of misinformation in their attempt to tar and feather the theory of evolution. I have responded to many of these false claims previously. However, one assertion that is especially outlandish is that the Soviet dictator Joseph [...]









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  • October 31, 2011
  • 12:26 PM
  • 711 views

A Natural History of Vampires

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

Medveđa, Serbia. Jan. 1732 — The Carpathian mountains loomed ominously to the east, as if nature herself was conspiring with evil. In the valley below a shadow had been draped over the corpses that now littered the quiet cemetery. Of the forty villagers exhumed that morning, a total of thirteen had been identified as vampires. [...]









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  • October 6, 2011
  • 11:45 AM
  • 685 views

Charles Darwin and the Vivisection Outrage

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

Author’s Note: The following originally appeared at The Dispersal of Darwin. According to the British Medical Journal the alleged crime resembled a crucifixion. The victims had been strapped to boards, backs down, and with their legs cinched outwards. In the stifling August heat their heavy breathing was made only more intense by a suffocating fear. [...]









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Feller, D. (2009) Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 40(4), 265-271. DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.09.004  

  • September 22, 2011
  • 11:48 AM
  • 578 views

Commodity Traitors: Financial Speculation on Commodities Fuels Global Insecurity

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

“Food is always more or less in demand,” wrote Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. While the founder of modern capitalism pointed out that the wealthy consume no more food than their poor neighbors, because the “desire of food is limited in every man by the narrow capacity of the human stomach,” the desire [...]









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Marco Lagi, Yavni Bar-Yam, Karla Z. Bertrand, & Yaneer Bar-Yam. (2011) The Food Crises: A quantitative model of food prices including speculators and ethanol conversion. New England Complex Systems Institute. info:/

  • September 6, 2011
  • 11:58 AM
  • 629 views

Freedom to Riot: On the Evolution of Collective Violence

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

From London to the Middle East riots have shaken political stability. Are the answers to be found in human nature? Police cars were overturned and shops looted as the mob descended on the city’s central square. Rioters tore the police station’s outer door off its hinges and “used it as a battering ram” to break [...]









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Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand, & Yaneer Bar-Yam. (2011) The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East. New England Complex Systems Institute. arXiv: 1108.2455v1

  • August 26, 2011
  • 08:50 AM
  • 1,349 views

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict’s Balls

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

Author’s note: The following originally appeared as a guest post at A Primate of Modern Aspect and subsequently formed the basis for a technical comment published by Nature co-authored with John Hawks. This post is also notable in that it began my collaboration with artist Nathaniel Gold. There is very little known about the reign [...]









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McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B.... (2011) Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature, 471(7337), 216-219. DOI: 10.1038/nature09774  

  • August 8, 2011
  • 03:00 PM
  • 1,210 views

On the Origin of Cooperative Species: New study reverses a decade of research claiming chimpanzee selfishness

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

Charles Darwin had more in common with chimpanzees than even he realized. Before he was universally known for his theory of natural selection, the young naturalist was faced with one of the great moral choices in the history of science. The decision he made has long been hailed as the type of behavior that fundamentally [...]









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Victoria Hornera,J. Devyn Cartera, Malini Suchaka, and Frans B. M. de Waal. (2011) Spontaneous prosocial choice by chimpanzees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/10.1073/pnas.1111088108

  • July 29, 2011
  • 10:13 AM
  • 1,304 views

Does Rough-and-Tumble Play Teach Lessons About Fairness? “Why, Soitenly!”

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The Three Stooges was the source of an ongoing controversy between my parents. My dad introduced my brother and I to their antics and would often laugh along with us as we imitated their physical hijinks in front of the TV. But, for my mom, the Stooges’ fake violence and prat falls were simply ridiculous [...]









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  • July 5, 2011
  • 03:55 AM
  • 827 views

Throwing Rocks From the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

I’m teaching my son to think like a scientist. He is two years old. We frequently go for walks together through the woods and along the coastlines of British Columbia where I allow his curiosity to run free. His current research project is throwing rocks into the ocean (this is just the exploratory phase mind [...]... Read more »

Michael Elazar. (2011) Projectile Motion and the Rejection of Superposition. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 169-187. info:/10.1007/978-94-007-1605-6_16

  • April 21, 2011
  • 01:06 PM
  • 1,195 views

Ariel Casts Out Caliban: Bonobos, "Killer-Apes" and Human Origins

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

In place of a guest post this week I'm very pleased to announce my cover article in the latest edition of Times Higher Education.--------------------------------------------The concept of the 'killer-ape' offers a pessimistic reflection of humanity and its genesis, but the latest research shows that a primate species whose success is based on mutual aid and pleasure, not violence, is a better model for human origins. Eric Michael Johnson considers the better bonobos of our nature."Nature never i........ Read more »

Perelman, P., Johnson, W., Roos, C., Seuánez, H., Horvath, J., Moreira, M., Kessing, B., Pontius, J., Roelke, M., Rumpler, Y.... (2011) A Molecular Phylogeny of Living Primates. PLoS Genetics, 7(3). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001342  

  • April 15, 2011
  • 02:21 PM
  • 1,197 views

The Allure of Gay Cavemen

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Neuron Culture at Wired:In 1993 the reputable German weekly Der Spiegel reported a rumor that Otzi, the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy discovered in the Otztal Alps two years earlier, contained evidence of the world's earliest known homosexual act. "In Otzi's Hintern," wrote the editors, referring to the Iceman's hinterland, "Spermien gefunden worden." (If you require a translation, chances are you didn't want to know anyway.) The rumor quickly s........ Read more »

Will Roscoe. (2000) Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. Macmillan. info:/

  • March 11, 2011
  • 03:56 PM
  • 1,216 views

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict's Balls

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by A Primate of Modern Aspect:A new study in the journal Nature has generated a great deal of titillation this week as Cory McLean and colleagues have revealed a sequence of DNA that promotes these penis spines, a sequence that humans appear to have lost. The genetic mechanism involved has already been explained extremely well by Ed Yong and John Hawks. However, the interpretation of what the loss of this DNA reveals about human evolution is perh........ Read more »

McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B.... (2011) Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature, 471(7337), 216-219. DOI: 10.1038/nature09774  

  • February 4, 2011
  • 04:03 PM
  • 791 views

Touching Death

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by The Prancing Papio:There is something intensely animal about our relationship with the dead. As an atheist I don’t feel particular reverence or awe at the site of a cadaver. It mostly just creeps me out. But even religious believers, those who should be comfortable with the idea that a dead body retains no trace of the person they once knew, also seem to have trouble letting go of what St. Paul called “confidence in the flesh.” In funera........ Read more »

Cronin, K., van Leeuwen, E., Mulenga, I., & Bodamer, M. (2011) Behavioral response of a chimpanzee mother toward her dead infant. American Journal of Primatology. DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20927  

  • January 11, 2011
  • 12:20 PM
  • 844 views

What Was Lost in the Fire: A Conservation Memorial

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Reconciliation Ecology:The modern conservation movement began at dawn on December 8, 1850, above the north fork of California's San Joaquin river. Soft orange light had just begun to spill over the craggy peaks of the eastern Ahwahnee mountains causing the jagged minarets to ignite like still burning embers from the Indian campfires below. All remained still inside the wigwams of the Ahwahneechee camp. But an attuned ear would have noticed ........ Read more »

  • November 22, 2010
  • 11:01 AM
  • 762 views

Stressing Motherhood: A primatologist discovers the social factors responsible for maternal infanticide. (Scientific American)

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Scientific American:Throughout history, from the fictional Medea to the tragic reports of modern times, women have taken the lives of their children under a variety of contexts, whether it is to punish the father, escape from the burden of motherhood, or even to protect a child from what they perceive as a fate worse than death. In this regard humans share yet another feature, albeit a tragic one, with nonhuman animals since females in a varie........ Read more »

  • October 13, 2010
  • 11:55 AM
  • 791 views

Defending the Sensible: Charles Darwin and the Anti-Vivisection Controversy

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted at The Dispersal of Darwin:According to the British Medical Journal it resembled a crucifixion. The dogs were strapped to boards, backs down, and with their legs cinched outwards. In the stifling August heat their heavy panting was made only more intense by a suffocating fear. The accused was described as wearing a white apron “that was afterwards covered with blood” as he approached one of the struggling animals. His mouth was tied shut but ........ Read more »

Feller, D. (2009) Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 40(4), 265-271. DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.09.004  

  • September 23, 2010
  • 01:56 PM
  • 917 views

Reflections on the WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by PLoS Blogs:What happens if researchers inadvertently fall prey to confirmation bias at a societal level?Addressing this question Canadian psychologists Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan at the University of British Columbia (where I am also located) recently published a paper in the journal Behavioral Brain Sciences. Their research documents how most of the studies that psychologists claim show human universals are really just........ Read more »

Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010) The weirdest people in the world?. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152X  

  • September 2, 2010
  • 12:55 PM
  • 897 views

The Science of Sexism: Primate Behavior and the Culture of Sexual Coercion

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by The Intersection at Discover magazine.Despite the advances our society has made for women’s rights and sexual equality during the last century this example is just one more sign of how far we still have to go. It’s not an isolated incident. According to statistics compiled by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there were 12,696 workplace sexual harassment cases filed in 2009 (which would be a fraction of the number that actuall........ Read more »

Martin N. Muller and Richard W. Wrangham. (2009) Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females. Harvard University Press. info:/

  • August 20, 2010
  • 02:38 PM
  • 805 views

The Scientist and the Anarchist - Part III

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Deborah Blum at her website Speakeasy Science.When an estimated 1,400 match-girls went on strike in July, 1888 to protest for better working conditions, it started a fire that became known as New Unionism. Soon after came the London dock workers’ strike, and within twelve months the UK’s Trade Union Congress had increased its membership from 670,000 to 1,593,000. [1]For Thomas Henry Huxley and Peter Kropotkin these labor developments were ........ Read more »

Peter Kropotkin. (1902) Mutual Aide: A Factor of Evolution. New York: McClure, Philips . info:/

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