Jane Goodall Buries Her Head in the Sand

Primate researcher and sometimes animal rights activist Jane Goodall recently contributed an article condemning war. In the article, Goodall writes,

It is desperately important that the general public should have access to the facts. Unfortunately, a common response is to shy away from such knowledge. People prefer not to know, not to think about such things but rather, like some gigantic flock of ostriches, bury their heads in the sand. As more and more of that sand becomes contaminated as a result of war and the preparations for war, the outlook for the ostriches – and for all life on Earth – will become increasingly desolate.

Goodall might start with her own apparently limited knowledge. Ostriches, of course, do not bury their heads in the sand except in cartoons and comic strips.

Perhaps Goodall was relying on this vast store of animal information of hers earlier this year when she said that if researchers had simply “stretched our brains” then they could have found ways to do medical research without animals.

But perhaps Goodall has indulged in a bit too much brain stretching.


Devastating The Earth. Jane Goodall, Resurgence, May/June 2003.

Jane Goodall's Convincing Argument Against Animal Research

Until now, the animal rights argument against animal testing had little sway over this writer, but primate expert Jane Goodall has such a convincing argument for replacing animal research, that I may have to change my mind.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview with Goodall in the Indian Express,

[Indian Express]: What is the way out?

[Jane Goodall]: We are the dominant species. We have the brains to subdue elephants. If it’s possible to reach the moon and find life-saving drugs with these brains, it’s also possible to find ways of progress without hurting animals. Had we stretched our brains a bit, we would have been further ahead. For animals, it’s torture. So let’s get our brains working and get rid of these painful experiments.

Of course, why didn’t anyone else think of this before? If it’s possible to go the moon, it must also be possible to accomplish X (where X is any as-yet unaccomplished goal).

If it’s possible to reach the moon, it’s also possible to travel back in time and stop World War II. If it’s possible to reach the moon, it’s also possible to cure all disease by 2010.

I certainly hope that Goodall is considered for the Nobel Prize for such pithy insight.


Can’t we research without hurting animals?. Indian Express, January 15, 2003.

The Moral Status of Apes

The BBC recently reported that several animal groups in Europe had united to urge the European Union to ban all experiments on great apes. Research on great apes is already explicitly banned in many European countries, including Great Britain. Activists especially want a laboratory in the Netherlands that conducts research on chimpanzees to be shut down.

Jane Goodall is leading the charge against such experiments, though it’s a bit odd that she apparently has not thought through her views on animal experimentation. She told the BBC,

I think it’s unethical to experiment on chimpanzees and other primates — and also on dogs and cats. But I don’t know where you draw the line. We need to develop research on human tissue in test-tubes. That’s the only scientifically valid and ethical way to go.

At least part of the last sentence is demonstrably false since medical research on non-human primates has provided important medical advances over the last century. At the very least one would hope someone as widely admired as Dr. Goodall would think through her beliefs on animal experimentation before saying “I don’t know where you draw the line.”

Helene Guldberg recently wrote a short, informative article for Spiked Science laying out the case against great apes being similar enough to human beings to be granted rights. She nicely dispenses with the “ape research is scientifically invalid” argument by pointing out that people like Goodall are trying to have it both ways,

According to Jane Goodall, ‘the higher intelligence and the emotional nature of the great apes sets them apart from non-primate animals’, making experiments that cause them suffering entirely illegitimate. In fact, it is precisely what we have in common with great apes — not cognitive or behavioural characteristics, but genetic similarities — that makes research on primates so valuable.

Guldberg runs through a lot of the problems with claims that apes are self aware or have other human-like characteristics. Her summary of the claims for language among great apes is especially on target with Guldberg writing that, “Most importantly apes never develop the ability to use language to regulate their own actions. … It is when thought and speech come together that children’s thinking is raised to new heights and they start acquiring truly human characteristics. Language becomes a tool of thought allowing children increasingly to master their own behavior.”


Campaign demands EU ape research ban. Alex Kirby, The BBC, March 28, 2001.

The great ape debate. Helene Guldberg, Spiked-Online.Com, March 29, 2001.