Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is that a threat of retaliation I smell?

I have an interesting concept to propose. Instead of studying how chimpanzees are like humans, can we conduct research on how humans are so similar to the apes? For my first project, I suggest examining “retaliation” as an interaction for dominance. In other words, how does the big mama (or daddy) maintain her (or his) control over the minions?
At least the apes aren't retaliating
against the humans... yet.
Chimpanzees, we know, will retaliate against others in their group. The noted primatologist Toshisada Nishida published an article in Understanding Chimpanzees, “Social interactions between resident and immigrant female chimpanzees,” where he discussed dominance relationships among adult females. In his study, he kept careful count of how many times the chimpanzees used retaliation. Sarah Brosnan, in her article “Inequity and Prosocial Behavior in Chimpanzees,” published in The Mind of the Chimpanzee, pointed out that “chimpanzees will attack individuals who fail to respond with support in a fight for which their help has been solicited (de Waal 1982)…”
Humans don’t need the smack of a 2 x 4 board between the eyes to understand that we are (or will be) retaliated against. We respond perfectly well to the threats of the 2 x 4 (as non-human primates do). Most of us, especially those with the most to lose, keep our heads down and mouths shut when the threat of retaliation is in the air.
And I’ve been smelling a lot of that fear lately. Until last night, it wasn’t about retaliation directed against me, but at those with the most to lose. Those with the most to tell.
Many people have trusted me with insider information on various ape projects and organizations. They know about the financial shenanigans or, even worse, about the harm being done to the apes. They want to do what is right. But they fear retaliation from the ape owners and their lackeys.
When people send me information, they ALWAYS ask me for anonymity. Why? I’d like to share some of the more startling comments I’ve received. These comments come from people on the bottom of the dominance hierarchy all the way up the ladder to folks who are well-known and admired ape advocates. Each quote is from a different person.
“I want the truth out there and for donors to realize that [redacted] is a sham, a fraud, yet I'm so worried about the trouble I might get into if found out! Leave it to [redacted] to try and take away freedom of speech... and I'm mad at myself for letting her still yet instill this fear in me even though I no longer have to deal with her on a daily basis.”
“I feel like there is something horribly wrong with the whole field - no exceptions. Hypocrisy is rampant… Please keep everything between you and me.”
“This is off the record please or at least out of the media. I do not want to get in a battle with [redacted], I simply want to continue to help as many [non-human primates] as I can.”
“I've been trying hard to get [redacted] to go public with [redacted], but while they are very upset with her, they are concerned over lawsuits…”
“It was more of a warning as they know [redacted] and her persistence to destroy people overall.”
There’s more, but you get the idea.
Last night, I discovered these people may be on to something. This note landed in my gmail box at 11:29 pm:
Dear Ms. Forsythe,
We have reviewed your blogpost regarding The Gorilla Foundation and plan to respond more formally to the untrue and slanderous nature of some of the statements there.  In the meantime, and given the defamatory nature of the claims there, we ask that you remove your post, and refrain from posting more of the same as you indicate in the blog you are planning to do.
If you would like to reveal the source of your information, or share the source document, we could then respond more specifically, and you would be able to share the truth with your audience in a subsequent post.
Penny Patterson, Ph.D., President
Ron Cohn, Ph.D., Vice President
The Gorilla Foundation
I don’t understand why Penny and Ron would need to know the source of my information in order to respond to anything I've written, but it sure reeks, doesn’t it? I will never reveal any of my sources, about anything. But if these two want to respond on the basis of facts, I will be happy to share their statements on this blog.
I thank my lucky stars that people believe in me, and trust me enough to share inside information. This little blog doesn’t have even a miniscule percentage of a percentage of the reach of Sixty Minutes or 20/20, but we are all doing what we can to let the sun shine on the scams and bullshit in the ape research world. As one well-known ape advocate told me recently, “What I cared about was the chimps. [Redacted] and all those people who made their careers off the backs of those chimps and gorillas should be ashamed of themselves.”
I wonder if we could also do some research on the human ability, or lack thereof, to experience shame.
One thing I know is that we most certainly do not need to research bravery. It is exhibited by the donors, the consultants, the caregivers, the inspectors, and the advocates who help us see the truth about ape “research.” I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

My earlier posts about The Gorilla Foundation:
Happy Birthday Queen Koko


  1. They will respond to "the untrue and slanderous nature of some of the statements", so says Penny Patterson, Ph.D., President, and Ron Cohn, Ph.D., Vice President of The Gorilla Foundation.


    There is nothing untrue or slanderous regarding these statements about The Gorilla Foundation. In fact, the statements posted are only small nuggets from the very tip of this TGF iceberg. One would be very surprised (not in a good way) if they were able to scratch below Penny and Ron's very protected surface labeled as "Research".

    Untrue and slanderous? Penny and Ron are the masters of "untrue and slanderous". They've been practicing and living it for more than 40 years.

    (The Truth)

  2. Speaking of the TRUTH. Watch the latest Academy worthy performance and ask anyone familiar with sign language what Koko is really signing.

    1. Can someone who knows ASL translate Koko's signs for us?

      In an eye-opening book, "Song of the Apes," Andrew Halloran writes about the time he watched Koko from web streaming. After seeing her sign words that were totally unrelated to the questions she was asked, Halloran wrote:

      "I felt like I had been taken. Koko wasn't having a dialogue. Koko wasn't using language. Koko was making random gestures based on the training she had received. It didn't bother me so much that Koko was speaking gibberish. What I really didn't like was the way Francine Patterson seemed to be covering for her..."

    2. This is the wrong approach, Dawn, as the other great apes have significantly smaller thumbs, have wrists that do not bend backwards as ours do, and have fingers which do not straighten as ours do either (all of which you well know - so please put that into your frame of thinking). Because of these differences, the other great apes cannot make many of the traditional ASL signs that humans enjoy, and so anyone wishing to make translation must become familiar with the individual chiremes employed. Beyond that, due to convention, non-native ASL users typically never see both hands used at the same time to combine concepts, with the exception of this use in some poetry, though great apes do this frequently - confusing non-native signers. Once past the subtleties of great ape ASL use and production, one must then understand the environmental context, the shared context of the signer and the recipient (e.g. inside jokes, mutual history, etc.), the psychological context of the user (e.g. "How's it going, Bob?" "I'm dead. The Boss is going to kill me" <- which obviously is not true but demonstrates the affect of the speaker), and the social space and physicality of the signs (i.e. how proximal and distal usage, combined with pace, abruptness, body posture, facial affect, and those of the recipient).

      No. Signing is not as simple as 'this finger wiggle = blue'.

  3. 1. "Hungry" when questioned.

    2. "Tummy"

    3. "Love" (Koko's version). Koko is definitely NOT signing baby. At this point Koko seems frustrated and scratches her arms.

    Koko then tries to get Dr. Patterson to focus by attempting to place her hands to Penny's head. Something drops, further distracting Dr. Patterson.

    4. Koko then points to her "Nipple", more frustration, maybe this will get Penny's attention.

    5. Koko signs "good" as she recognizing Dr. Patterson is more focused and in the moment.

    6. Koko then gets cute with a kiss and grabbing at Penny's vest pockets. The pockets are full of nuts. Off camera Koko always gets nuts for responding to Penny. Koko grabs as if to say "I'll get it myself". Penny pushes Koko's hand away.

    At no time in this video is Koko signing "Baby". She's simply saying she's hungry. Perhaps Dr. Patterson has just arrived with Koko's lunch and Penny is making her work for it.

    The truth.

  4. Actions do speak louder than (signed) words. From, an image detailing Koko's sign for "love" which Dr. Patterson interprets as "baby" in the most recent video. Now, one could argue that a baby is love. Believe what you will, but a responsible non-profit should be transparent in all things.

  5. It should also be noted that Dr. Patterson interprets Koko scratching her upper arms as a sign for "mean" or "frustrated about baby" (see 28-30 second mark). In ASL, arm scratching does not indicate "mean" (as in angry) or "frustrated". In fact, it resembles the sign for "bear". Perhaps Koko wants a bear instead? Or maybe it simply feels good to give your upper arms a scratch when signing "love" and waiting patiently for the nut pocket to open.

    Here you will see the signs for both "baby" and "bear" (along with other signs in alpha order).

  6. Hello Everyone,
    As usual, great discussion! If I can add to this - outside of my obvious philosophical problems with projects such as Koko, what I find troubling are the responses from Project Koko to legitimate criticisms (both scientific and otherwise). Rather than addressing the skepticism (or, in some cases, legitimate concern over the welfare of a perceived exploited gorilla), the pattern seems to be thus: decry the criticisms as "ignorant" then label them as "slanderous". Its an old tale (one that goes all the way back to Patterson's letter to the Sebeok's in 1980!), but one that still continues and still generates attention.

  7. @ J Patrick Malone

    Based on your thinking, Dr. Patterson can verbalize anything (real or not) when Koko is gesturing or signing.

    Any of Koko's signs can have more than one meaning depending on any number of circumstances and who is interpreting.

    Since Dr. Patterson is always the ONLY one interpreting publicly and the only voice of Koko, it's quite possible that Dr Patterson's interpretation of Koko's signs and gestures may exist only in Dr. Patterson's mind. These interpretations are then verbalized to the audience who is expected to accept the word "as-is" and factual.

    Why? Because Dr. Patterson said so. And because Koko receives a nut when the camera is turned off.

    1. Anonymous,

      I cannot easily parse the meaning of the first statment; of course anyone can verbalize whatever they like when anyone is doing anything. Did you mean to suggest that I offer that Dr. P can say that Koko is signing anything that she wants and gets to call it good?

      Absolutely not.

      Of course signs can have more than one meaning depending upon a whole host of circumstances - that is part of the definition for what makes a language a "language". It seems as though you might try learning a bit about linguistics, semiotics, and most importantly find legitimate cultural connection with the deaf community to learn a great deal more about how sign languages function. In the meantime, I'd recommend you brush up a bit with a few good reads:

      1) The Syntax of American Sign Language: Functional Categories and Hierarchical Structure (Language, Speech, and Communication)

      The author is a friend of mine and was Chomsky's sign language interpreter for a long time. Currently a professor at the University of Central Lancashire.

      2) Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American Sign Language

      Because no vocally produced language makes use of social space as an obligatory feature of fluency, having a solid foundation in its application is crucial in understanding signed forms of communication.

      Going forward, in fact it is not possible that Dr. Patterson's excellent work resides only within her mind. Though it is true that Koko's signed lexicon requires modification (DO is done differently because the ASL sign requires a thumb to finger motion gorillas have a tough time making), native signers have no challenge understanding Koko's meaning.

      This is an important point. Being a so-called "fluent" signer comes in two varieties. Some calling themselves "fluent" sign English (signed English is laborious and a very poor *substitute* for ASL - but also the vantage point most attempt to start from when leveling criticisms at any sign language study - human or non - and these tired arguments have been abandoned in the literature). Others fluent in ASL have mastered sign production in a fairly natural signed grammar (EAT ME THAT = I want to eat that). Native signers are those born into families where the second class of fluency is part of the child's natural environment. The result is that conversion of English into ASL is not "translation" but more accurately, "transliteration," and this is something those without function grasp of the grammar do not immediately understand.

      How does that grammar work? Observe the following video link:

      If you watch the two carefully, you will note that about 60% of the signing is the same, and of that 60%, more than half is in different order - transliteration | translation.

      These video links will give you a better background in ASL and its use in the language studies. Hopefully, these will answer most of your current questions and inspire many new ones.

    2. Or, if you don't have time to start a new profession, read what others say about the particulars of the ape language controversy. I recommend three insightful books that are also terrific reads.
      Silent Partners: The Legacy of the Ape Language Experiments, by Eugene Linden
      The Song of the Ape: Understanding the Languages of Chimpanzee, by Andrew R. Halloran
      Almost Chimpanzee: Searching for What Makes Us Human, in Rainforests, Labs, Sanctuaries, and Zoos, by Jon Cohen.

    3. Why not, just once, explore the recorded data and enjoy critically examining materials from both the popular *and* the academic press?

      - Someone does a study and writes about it.
      - Another person reads that study and assesses the results.
      - That person then writes about the conclusions drawn for popular reading.
      - A person buys the book and reads it.

      At best, assuming no steps in between, you have a telephone game leading to 4th-hand interpretation of the original work, made 5th-hand by your interpretation. Is that good enough? Whether you read original works (which you are fully capable of doing) and agree with some of the results, none of the results, or all of the results - wouldn't you rather stand on your own two feet?

      Dawn, you blocked me from your Facebook profile because I wrote essentially the same thing and ended it with;

      "Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see."

      ~ Benjamin Franklin

      Are you now going to do the same?

    4. Yes, I blocked you from my personal Facebook page. I reserve the right to enjoy Facebook with friends, family, colleagues, and people with whom I enjoy conversing.

  8. When nipples are people.....

    It's no secret Koko has a thing for nipples. Several times a day Koko will stare into your chest and touch her nipple, meaning "show me yours". Of course staffers are encouraged to accommodate Koko's every wish.

    Now, when a donor or 'special' guest visits, Koko will ask to see their nipples too. New nips, yay!


    Dr. Patterson will explain to the guest, "Oh she means people. N-i-p-p-l-e sounds like p-e-o-p-l-e. Koko is saying she likes to see people".

    Yeah right........ and so it goes.

    1. Dr Patterson seems to have an answer for every weird thing thats going on and the moment that she does'nt have an answer she throws a lawyer into the mix..

      would that Centre stop excisiting when Sue does?

    2. Hey, I like to see nipples...urm, people too! I guess we are very similar, after all!