Bookbeat: June 2006

Monkey Farm: A History of the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology, Orange Park, FloridaMonkey Farm: A History of the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology, Orange Park, Florida, 1930–1965

by Donald A. Dewsbury, Psychology
(Bucknell University Press, 2006)
Available through Amazon

Locals called it the Monkey Farm. Researchers referred to it as the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology. For Donald Dewsbury, the first US lab for the study of non-human primates—located in the university’s backyard from 1930 to 1965—offers a glimpse into the changing nature of science and its practices.

Writing a biography of the Yerkes Labs proved a natural choice for Dewsbury, a professor of psychology and an historian of science. “I live an hour-and-a-half away, and this was once the premier facility for the study of great apes in the world.”

Primate anatomy, physiology, senses, development, social behavior, reproduction, reproductive behavior, learning and thought processes all came under scientific scrutiny. The founder and first director of the labs, Robert M. Yerkes, also a psychologist, believed in perfecting humankind, says Dewsbury. “He was a progressivist and believed knowledge gained from chimpanzees would help us engineer human society better. Knowledge about the great apes’ behavior and cognitive ability is relevant to humans because they are so close to humans.”

Donald A. Dewsbury
Donald A. Dewsbury

Each of the six directors faced their own challenges. Yerkes first showed the world that it was possible to breed and study great apes in captivity. Karl Lashley focused the lab more on physiological work, including work on the brain. Henry Nissen oversaw the shift in ownership from Harvard and Yale to Emory University in 1956. Later, sick and overworked, he committed suicide. Acting director Lelon Peacock soon gave way to Arthur Riopelle, who, recognizing the shift in the scientific winds, changed the labs’ focus to medical research. Geoffrey Bourne, a showman who liked television appearances, supervised the move to Atlanta.

Taking a case-study approach to the book project, Dewsbury was able to examine changes in science and its funding, urbanization, race and gender. Even by the standards of the day Yerkes’ refusal to employ women scientists stood out, and the everyday racism in Florida was shocking to Northern researchers in the 60s.

While the profession saw a shift from the solitary scientist, such as Yerkes, to large-scale collaborations, funding changes reduced the labs’ flexibility. Post-war funding shifted from about 90 percent private sources to 90 percent federal sources, says Dewsbury. “Now people worked not on what the director thought worthwhile, but on what they could get grants for.”

Governmental concern with human health finished off Florida’s monkey farm. The demands of medical research, especially cancer research, persuaded the government to set up regional primate research centers. Emory’s medical school saw the labs’ potential as a center, and in 1965 moved the Yerkes Laboratories to Atlanta. Today it is one of eight national primate research centers funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Pain: New Essays on its Nature and the Methodology of its Study

Pain: New Essays on its Nature and the Methodology of its StudyEdited by Murat Aydede, Philosophy
(MIT Press, 2006)
Availble through MIT Press

The study of pain and its puzzles offers opportunities for understanding such larger issues as the place of consciousness in the natural order and the methodology of psychological research. In this book, leading philosophers and scientists offer a wide range of views on how to conceptualize and study pain. The essays include discussions of perceptual and representationalist accounts of pain; the affective-motivational dimension of pain; whether animals feel pain, and how this question can be investigated; how social pain relates to physical pain; whether first-person methods of gathering data can be integrated with standard third-person methods; and other methodological and theoretical issues in the science and philosophy of pain.

Household Words

Household Wordsby Stephanie Smith, English
(University of Minnesota Press, 2006)
Available through Amazon

Looking in detail at words that “treat people as things, and things as people, and do so at that strange space where joking, ridiculing, demeaning, oppressing, resisting, and regretting converge,” Household Words is a study of how certain words act as indices of political and social change, perpetuating anxieties and prejudices even as those ways of thinking have been seemingly resolved or overcome by history.

Specifically, Stephanie A. Smith examines six words—bloomer, sucker, bombshell, scab, nigger, and cyber—and explores how these words with their contemporary “universal” meaning appeal to a dangerous idea about what it means to be human, an idea that denies our history of conflict.

Statistics: The Art and Science of Learning From Data

Old Dominion, Industrial Commonwealthby Alan Agresti, Statistics, and Christine A. Franklin
(Prentice Hall, 2006)
Available through Amazon

Alan Agresti and Christine Franklin have merged their research expertise, as well as their extensive real-world and teaching experience, to develop a new introductory statistics text that makes students statistically literate, while encouraging them to ask and answer interesting statistical questions. The authors have successfully crafted a text that takes the ideas that have turned statistics into a central science in modern life and made them accessible and engaging to students without compromising necessary rigor.

The varied and data-rich examples and exercises place heavy emphasis on thinking about and understanding statistical concepts. The applications are topical, current and successfully illustrate the relevance of statistics.

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