back to article Boffins drill into human language by terrifying chimps with vipers

Chimps don't just blurt out whatever is on their mind - they consider who's listening, says an article published in Current Biology that could reveal an important stage in the development of language. In a test with 33 chimpanzees and plastic models of vipers, the research team, led by Catherine Crockford from the School of …

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monkeys ???

I think a quick edit might be needed

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Anonymous Coward

Oook?

Oook!!!

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Is this story about monkeys or chimps?

The story seems to flick between the two at will

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Is this story about monkeys or chimps?

Blame me, I shouldn't have allowed it to be used as a catch-all word for primates. The article's been fixed, apologies.

C.

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Facepalm

Translation...

"Hoo"

=

"Don't worry about that viper. It's just a fake put there by the humans for some reason. What time's lunch?"

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Thumb Up

...or?

"They've put a fake snake here again guys! Remind me - how many times have we asked for a packet of cards?"

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Trollface

...and...

"Just dying for a smoke. When will they start testing nicotine effects again?"

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Devil

Viper?

It's a fun but simple car; not particularly scary, though. If you really wanted to scare them, put in a minivan with a Jesus fish on it. *shiver*

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"Americans?"

"Oh, shit. There goes the planet."

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A jesus fish plus ...

... a welded chain license plate frame guarantees a bad driver. One or the other is bad all by itself, but when they are combined ... ::shudder::

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outstanding

I wonder if I can get funding to try the experiment in executive board meetings....

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Coat

Won't work.

Snakes will observe professional courtesy around the board members.

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The difference between people and chimps

> Chimps don't just blurt out whatever is on their mind - they consider who's listening

And if daytime television is anything to go by, people never worry about that

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Headmaster

The more we learn about chimps and great apes the moe we realise that they have sophisticated and developed senses of identity, community, and fairness. There really has to come a point where we no longer use them as experimental subjects. It is getting to be, shall we say, unpalatable, to use these animals in labs.

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Quite right! Let's do the experiments on reality tv celebrities, welfare bums, and lawyers who advertise on billboards. Who would complain with we did torture experiments on them?

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This post has been deleted by its author

Really

Both male and female chimpanzees have frequently been observed to commit infanticide and then cannibalize the resulting remains; I gather the current state of the anthropological science regards this not as a perversion of healthy chimpanzee 'society', but rather simply part of our fellow apes' natural behavioral repertoire.

Which of those three qualities -- identity, community, or fairness -- would you say such behavior exemplifies?

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Anonymous Coward

...

@Aaron Em.

I'm confused. Are you arguing that chimps don't pass muster or that humans should be struck off the register.

Perhaps a visit to your local prison might help clarify things for you?

Oh wait, the humans that like to experiment on chimps have decided that in our case we have lots of aberrations and in chimps its normal to be nasty. Lol.

A nods as good as a wink to a blind bat.

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I don't doubt you're confused

In fact I'm sure you find it a comfortingly familiar state of mind. I didn't go into this in my earlier comment because I expected that anyone reading it would be sensible enough not to need such an obvious and well-known fact explained -- which is another way of saying that I frequently allow optimism to tempt me into foolishness. Here, let me spell it out for you:

I referred to chimps as 'our fellow apes' because they are quite like us, and vice versa, in many ways. A tendency to infanticide, in particular, is common behavior in both species, and it's really only in modernity that anyone's had any silly ideas about every life being sacred and similar soppy nonsense -- in fact, infanticide out of necessity is a longstanding human tradition, widely if quietly storied throughout what we know of our history, which carries on, under names like 'SIDS' and 'abortion', even today.

(Anyone now firing up his flaming gear over that last sentence should first note that inasmuch as I have political opinions -- a disgusting habit, in the nature of an addiction, and which I am trying hard to jettison -- I'm in favor of abortion being freely available, on the theory that a dissipated age should offer at least some balms for its evils.)

Of course, whatever the genetic similarities, on the gross scale we're much more different from chimpanzees than we are like them. Domesticability, in particular, is a trait where the two species differ quite markedly; where even the most thoroughly domesticated chimpanzee can't entirely be trusted not to rip someone's face off, humans domesticate so well that later generations mostly don't notice they're domesticated at all -- we also call it 'civilization', and easily forget it's not the natural state of feral humans. Hollerith 1 seems so thoroughly to have forgotten that he's ready to impute similar qualities to feral chimpanzees, which strikes me as a particularly risible example of Rousseauvian "noble savage" nonsense and as such worthy of comment.

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Pint

cannibalism

I suppose cannibalism is a very human "feature" looking at our own history.

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Black Helicopters

Herodotus was right.

Calling apes "dog-faced people", with humans unable to understand their language.

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What's with the use of "Boffins"?

As a research scientist myself, I hate the Register's recurring use of the word 'boffins' to refer to scientists. It sounds pejorative, making researchers out to be ‘eggheads’ or otherwise somehow strange. It's weak writing that reaches for such worn out stereotypes. Maybe the Reg can also bring back the delightful use of "wogs" when referring to non-whites?

This wouldn’t matter if it weren’t part of a trend – whether intended by the Register or not – to delegitimize science and scientists, which is part of a larger anti-intellectual push by political conservatives. You don’t like the bad news of shrinking ice caps and global climate change, massive species die-offs, etc, etc?? Well, just don’t believe any of it! “It’s just the work of a bunch of boffins anyway!” As if facts and opinions were of equal weight - total intellectual slight-of-hand.

Maybe the Register is just trying to sound folksy, but I’m sure the staff would bristle if academics started routinely referring to journalists as hacks and the darker ones as wogs. WORDS MATTER.

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Happy

Round these parts

boffins are held in high accliam and quite rightly so you twat

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Facepalm

"This wouldn’t matter if it weren’t part of a trend – whether intended by the Register or not – to delegitimize science and scientists, which is part of a larger anti-intellectual push by political conservatives. You don’t like the bad news of shrinking ice caps and global climate change, massive species die-offs, etc, etc?? Well, just don’t believe any of it! “It’s just the work of a bunch of boffins anyway!” As if facts and opinions were of equal weight - total intellectual slight-of-hand."

Part of science is doubt and review, and getting mad at anyone for doubting the output of agenda financed and focused scientific groups without some solid peer review seems a tad silly, coming from a smart boffin like yourself.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: What's with the use of "Boffins"?

I was following you up until you suddenly dropped the w-bomb. What the hell? Anyway, the fact of the matter is this: boffin is an endearing term, it's great for headlines, but I'll try my best to steer towards other great words.

Every time someone complains about 'boffin', we get an email or comment from a clever cloggs who took the word in good jest. And you can call us hacks, it doesn't bother us. We hold proper scientists in high regard.

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Boffin

@CellDoc

Use of the word Boffin to refer to scientists dates back to before the Second World War, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boffin

(Boffin icon!)

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WTF?

vast majority of climate change research is peer-reviewed

Figgus my friend, yes "doubt and review" is absolutely part of science. However your direct implication that most climate change literature is not objective nor peer reviewed is simply completely false.

It is actually the great majority of climate change-denial literature is not really peer reviewed, but primarily put out by industrial groups masquerading as 'policy think tanks' or some other such falsehood. It's the same ruse as was used with cigarettes - pathetic if not so shameful.

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Angel

No, no, no, no, Minister -- TRICK CYCLIST is the pejorative.

Boffins are the smarties doing the big math and discovering stuff and inventing Kevlar -- you know, the good guys.

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Boffin

Oi! You're off yer bike!

Check this and follow the links:

http://catallaxyfiles.com/2011/12/30/laframboise-ipcc-audit-4-the-mcintyre-case/

And look for Donna Laframboise "The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert"

Kindle Edition here: http://www.amazon.com/Delinquent-Teenager-Mistaken-Climate-ebook/dp/B005UEVB8Q/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top&tag=wattsupwithth-20

or

Amazon UK here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Delinquent-Teenager-Mistaken-Climate-ebook/dp/B005UEVB8Q/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318550553&sr=8-1-spell

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This post has been deleted by its author

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boffins a pejorative?

I thought it was a term encompassing an admiring wonderment for the fascinating work scientists do, at least that's always seemed implicit in the Reg's use of it.

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WTF?

Boffin a term of respect?? More like damning with faint praise!

A term of endearment and respect... really? I would've been surprised to not get a wad of responses calling me a stiff boffin... You toughs really know how to hurt a guy, huh?- ) sniff...

Here's part of the definition given in World Wide Words, which covers "International English from a British Perspective" - because I admit I'm a Yank, and wondered if I was missing a Brit-speak application. It seems the author there for the most part agrees with me - or would believe the writer/editor to be of an older generation:

"The headline in the Sydney Morning Herald last week caught my eye: “Bin Boffin, Says Scientists”, and not only because of the knee-jerk sub-editorial alliterations and the grammatical error.

"American readers may be flummoxed by it, since they hardly know the verb to bin in the sense of throwing something away (as into a rubbish bin), let alone boffin, which dictionaries gloss as meaning a person engaged in scientific or technical research. They do know the word boff, however, from an old word meaning to strike a blow, as a slang reference to an act of sex, which makes the headline peculiar, not to say risible.

"The article quoted Professor Chris Fell, who is President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, a body that represents 60,000 scientists and technologists in that country. His argument was that boffin is in common usage a jaded word that borders on the offensive; the word “conjures up images of weird old men in flapping lab coats, pouring strange chemicals into test tubes”, an image that — understandably — his Federation is not keen to see perpetuated.

"When it first appeared, in Britain during World War Two, boffin was a common colloquial reference to the technical experts, the backroom boys, who were helping to win the war. It was an affectionate term, though tinged with the practical fighting man’s scorn for the academic brain worker. It is claimed that the term arose among researchers who were developing radar, but there’s anecdotal evidence that it was around in the Royal Air Force just before the War as a general term for experts on aviation. However, we also know that — confusingly — it is first recorded, in the Royal Navy, for an “elderly” naval officer (one in his thirties or forties).

"I’d argue that — in Britain at least — boffin has never quite taken on the highly negative associations that Professor Fell ascribes to it, though it is now more the preserve of older writers and headline writers than a word in common use. But for many young people in Britain, it is indeed derogatory, but for a different reason. When it came into fashion among them some 20 years ago, it took on much the same sense that my generation gave to swot, as a disparaging description of someone good at school work — a person acknowledged to be brainy, but inoffensive and definitely not respected."

Mr. Quinion goes on to remind the good professor Fell that "language goes where it will", and this is certainly true - but that doesn't mean it cannot be commented on and even - woe to the thin-skinned! - be criticized. I'll say it again: Words matter... They carry not only meaning but attitude.

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Well, CellDoc, I'm a Yank and don't mind the term ...

I see nowt wrong with Boffin, especially in this context.

My job title at Bigger Blue was "Boffin at Large"; it was even on my business cards (only because they wouldn't let me use my preferred "Chief Cook & Bottle Washer"). My actual position? Floating Senior Member of the Technical Staff. I wandered from department to department, putting out fires.

Carry on, ElReg ... not that you need anybody's permission :-)

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Not being an Aussie but as a Yank and a physicist who actually likes the term, let me quote the late, great R. P. Feynman; "What do you care what other people think?"

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Coat

My puns are the pits

vi-per [vahy-per]

noun

1. one who vipes.

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Coat

This one is even worse

boffin [bof-in]

noun

1. one who bofs.

boff [bof]

verb

1. to cause to be overcome with laughter.

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To boff ...

... doesn't this mean 'to hump' ?

Seriously though, a lot of these 'pejoratives' are nothing of the sort.

Many scientists are happy to call themselves boffins, many technical people are happy to be called 'geeks'. And quite a few black rappers refer to themselves as ... well you know.

Consider 'techie'. There's a huge difference between my boss saying 'hmm, we are going to need a techie for this' and the sort of people higher up who say 'well, let's not worry about the techies' concerns - we need to get the contractuals sorted'.

Sensitivity to context - the most underrated foundation component of critical thinking.

.

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Anonymous Coward

To boff ...

... doesn't this mean 'to break wind' ?

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Anonymous Coward

Back to the subject....

Ok, "Hoo" - got it. That's one. Now, what's next in the list of 200k-odd English words.

Seems like a long row to hoe but, what do I know. I'm only a boffin.

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Coat

To Boff, or not to Boff, that is the question?

Behind all this tiresome whining about the word 'Boffin', I smell a septic advertising executive plotting to expurgate all 'prior art' then trademark the word for his underperforming washing-powder account:

"Need ancient lab-coats sparkling bright? ~ New Boffin-White! ~ With Enzymes, and a free test-tube in every pack!"

or, in a viral, self-singing strapline:

It's not the Boff

that gets the stains off

it's the Boffin

that'll get 'em off in

[a jiffy]

In other words, CellDoc, boff off back to the lab and stop boffin us around with futile attempts to dictate the use of living language to suit your whims. Unless, of course, you are a highly qualified ape-linguist, in which case may I be the first to bow before our new language Overlord?

The pristine one, with double-length sleeves.

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Childcatcher

Who Would Boffins Bear?

"When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin (boffin)?"

It is an olde word.

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Do not feed the troll.

CellDoc, though you may be a scientist, you are not a boffin.

You have used more offensive terms in your comment posts than could be construed from the use of the term boffin.

Away with you, troll.

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Anonymous Coward

It's political correctness gone maaaaad in here

Have I wandered into the Grauniad?

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Childcatcher

HMS INSECTIVORE

"he himself has said it,

and it's greatly to his credit,

that he is an englishboffin!

that he is an englishboffin!

.

in the teeth of this recession

he is true to his profession

he is an englishboffin!

he is an englishboffin!

.

but in spite of all temptations

to boff for other nations,

he remains an englishboffin!

he remains an englishboffin!"

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