essay

 

Abstract Submission to XXI Congress of the
International Primatological Society

 

In 2005, Jeremy submitted an abstract to the XXI Congress of the International Primatological Society (IPS) to be held in Uganda in 2006. The IPS described the event as ‘the world’s largest conference on Primatology dedicated to research, conservation and education’ (see www.wtmsources.com/186).

Jeremy’s abstract, titled Nurturing as the Prime Mover in Primate Development and Human Origins (included below) was rejected because it ‘presents no data nor a testable hypothesis and is therefore inappropriate for this congress’ (copy included below). Jeremy appealed this decision (copy included below) on the basis that the synthesis is supported by data-based and testable evidence, such as that bonobos are matriarchal, even though the actual data for the evidence wasn’t able to be included because the length of the Proposal was already extremely long. The President of the IPS 2006 Congress Committee, Dr William Olupot, responded essentially reasserting that the abstract didn’t ‘satisfy the minimum requirement of presenting data and as much as possible testable hypotheses’ (copy included below). Jeremy responded, complaining that a serious wrong had occurred (copy included below), and resigned his membership of the IPS in protest (copy included below).

 

______________________

 

The Oral Abstract Submission

30 August 2005

 

TITLE: Nurturing as the Prime Mover in Primate Development and Human Origins

ABSTRACT: Darwin said our altruistic ‘moral sense affords the best and highest distinction between man and lower animals’. ‘Reciprocal altruism’ has been used to explain our morality but ‘altruism’ means unconditional selflessness and reciprocity isn’t unconditional. This presentation argues only nurturing can develop unconditional selflessness. While nurturing is a selfish trait (it is ensuring its own reproduction) it is in appearance selfless; offspring are given everything for apparently nothing in return. It is nurturing’s appearance of being unconditionally selfless that has the potential to train infants to behave altruistically. Selection for more maternal mothers and longer infancy periods leads to offspring growing up trained to behave altruistically. But this training requires infants be left in vulnerable infancy and only primates, with their arms semi-freed from walking, could carry helpless infants and thus develop altruism. John Fiske first put forward this nurturing hypothesis in 1874 but, despite being described as ‘a principle far more important than Darwin’s natural selection’, it was let die; because, it will be argued, it dangerously confronted us with our inability to nurture our offspring now. Our insecure human condition has precluded acknowledgment of this explanation of human origins. What makes it psychologically safe to acknowledge nurturing’s role is science’s ability now to explain the human condition as a necessary battle that emerged between our altruistic instinctive self and our newer conscious self.

 

The IPS 2006 Congress Rejection

4 November 2005

 

Dear Jeremy Griffith,

 

Your abstract (1507) entitled Nurturing as the Prime Mover in Primate Development and Human Origins has been rejected by the Program Committee. Any questions about this may be directed to Tamara Bettinger, Chair, Program Committee at ipsconf2006@ucdavis.edu. Reviewer Comments: Both reviewers felt this abstract presents no data nor a testable hypothesis and is therefore inappropriate for this congress.

 

Sincerely,
Tamara Bettinger, Chair, Program Committee IPS

 

Jeremy’s First Letter of Appeal

Tamara Bettinger, Chair, Program Committee IPS 10 November 2005

 

Dear Tamara,

 

I was extremely disappointed to learn that my abstract (1507) entitled Nurturing as the Prime Mover in Primate Development and Human Origins has been rejected by the Program Committee because it ‘presents no data nor a testable hypothesis and is therefore inappropriate for this congress’.

Firstly, since the actual abstract couldn’t present any data or details due to its required short length I assume the reviewers are referring to The Human Condition Documentary Proposal which they evidently have a copy of.

With regard to ‘no data’, Part 2 of that Proposal, which deals with the nurturing hypothesis, contains a great deal of supportive evidence in the form of many summaries of data-supported studies of bonobos and other primates by leading primatologists. That bonobos are matriarchal, less aggressive, more cooperative, peaceful and social, more maternal, have longer infancies, are more neotenous, and more intelligent than common chimps, etc, etc is all from data-supported research and all that evidence is extraordinarily well accounted for by, or explained by the nurturing hypothesis.

Further, as documented in the Proposal on pages 40-43, the nurturing hypothesis was first put forward as a scientifically accountable and testable explanation for our human origins by John Fiske in 1874, and in a powerful testament to its scientific relevance was described at the time as ‘a principle far more important than natural selection’. And that was before we knew of the existence of bonobos. The evidence we have now from the bonobos has to make the hypothesis overwhelmingly scientifically relevant, accountable and worthwhile.

Similarly, to claim the nurturing hypothesis is not ‘testable’ is also utterly unjustified. It is an entirely testable, validatable hypothesis, as the evidence just described about bonobos shows; and I could have added all the studies specifically about nurturing referred to on page 36 of the Proposal, by Ashley Montagu (anthropologist), Alfred Adler (psychiatrist), Selma Fraiberg (child psychologist), George Wald (biologist), Ian Suttie (psychoanalyst), James Prescott (neuropsychologist), Richard M. Restak (neurologist), Sheila Kippley (La Leche League).

With regard to the explanation in the Proposal of our human condition, that I also referred to in my abstract, namely that it is due to a battle between our original instinctive moral selves and our newer conscious selves, is similarly evidenced by numerous data- supported studies such as the work of the pioneering primatologist Eugene Marais mentioned on page 71. Indeed the Proposal’s main point is that it is only because of science’s discoveries about the different ways in which genes and nerves process information that it has become possible for the human condition to finally be explained (that genes can give species orientations but only nerves are capable of developing insight and it has to follow that when the insightful conscious self developed it has to have clashed with the already established instinctive orientations). As summarised on page 73 of the Proposal, it is ‘only through the development of science that biological explanation could clarify’ the dilemma of the human condition.

Scienceexplanations of natural phenomena supported by data-supported, testable studiesis the basis of the biological synthesis presented in the Proposal. To be told the opposite is a fundamental misrepresentation, is extremely offensive and, much more importantly, it is a serious injustice to, indeed crime against, the progress of science and thus of humanity as a whole. Potentially critically important knowledge is being denied exposure to those most able to profit from it.

And it wasn’t as though the reviewers of the abstract didn’t have ample evidence of its validity as a scientific synthesis. The Proposals are accompanied by endorsements from many leading scientists in the world, such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Leakey to mention just two of the now 80 scientists on our FHA Publishing & Communications website who have endorsed the Proposal. I might include this endorsement from Dr Prosen to emphasise how important scientists are viewing the Proposal:

Firstly, Professor Harry Prosen is a leading American psychiatrist, former President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, recently retired head of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he was responsible for the establishment of two departments of psychiatry, one in Canada and another more recently in the USA; listed in the 2005-2006 America’s Registry of Outstanding Professionals. Described as ‘psychiatrist to the great apes’ after his and his colleagues’ rehabilitation of a bonobo named Brian, he is a prominent consultant on primate behaviour, working with one of the largest collections of captive bonobos in the world at the Milwaukee County Zoo:

His endorsement: ‘This is an incredibly important set of thoughts. These are the great questions and the more I think about it the more I think you [actually science] have answered them. The Proposal is never out of my brief case. I read it over and over and it is I think one of the most astonishing and outstanding things of our time. It is a gift and I hope you don’t give an inch to your detractors.’

The reference to ‘detractors’ is a reference to the fact that the human condition is a very contentious subject, dealing as it boldly does with issues such as meaning, purpose and morality, and ultimately the issue of ‘self’, however, as carefully argued in the Proposal, despite some scientists finding the subject an anathema, it is the subject that science now has to address if there is to be a future for the human race. As the renowned biologist E. O. Wilson has said, ‘The human condition is the most important frontier of the natural sciences’ (Consilience).

I wish to appeal this decision on the grounds that the reasons given for the rejection are seriously unsound. Could you please let me know what procedures the IPS Congress has in place to deal with such an appeal. Due to the seriousness of this issue, I have sent a copy of this appeal, the rejection and my abstract submission to the President of the IPS Congress Committee, Dr William Olupot. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Yours sincerely,
Jeremy Griffith

 

The IPS 2006 Congress Response to Jeremy’s Appeal

11 November 2005

 

Dear Jeremy,

 

The IPS 2006 Congress Committee appreciates your desire to attend the forthcoming congress as an active participant. We are happy that you could submit abstracts for review by the scientific committee.

However, the scientific committee and the review process are ingrained within the congress’s organizational structure because of the need to control the quality of contributions and to focus the contributions to the field of primatology. That makes rejection of some abstracts inevitable. For this congress, we require that all abstracts satisfy the minimum requirement of presenting data and as much as possible testing hypotheses. We cannot therefore change this criterion at this point, as that would mean re- visiting the entire review process for the abstracts received for this congress.

Your submission was valid, but was rejected on the basis that it did not fully satisfy the criteria set for abstracts for this congress. This does not necessarily mean that it will not satisfy the needs of future IPS Congresses or even of other scientific congresses/​meetings in the field of humanities. To satisfy the needs of future IPS congresses however, I would encourage you to review your contributions using the criteria set for this congress as approximate guidelines. Having reviewed the CD with the proposal on which your submission is based, I have no doubt in my mind that your work is interesting and challenges thinking, and perhaps many at the congress might have shared that view if you had the opportunity to present your work. I am nevertheless afraid that we have to go by the decision of the reviewers, which was reached in good faith and according to the requirements set for the congress. This decision has been further confirmed following consideration of your appeal by the congress committee and the IPS Secretariat. This decision notwithstanding, I still encourage you to attend the congress, as there is much more benefit out of meetings like this than just the opportunity to disseminate the substance of your work.

We look forward to seeing you at the congress. I am sorry to confirm the disappointing news regarding your abstract submission.

 

Sincerely,
William Olupot, Congress Committee Chair

 

Jeremy’s Second Letter of Appeal

21 November 2005

 

Dear Dr Olupot,

 

Thank you for your response to my appeal of the rejection of my abstract (1507) titled Nurturing as the Prime Mover in Primate Development and Human Origins for the IPS 2006 Congress.

You have again stated that it didn’t ‘satisfy the minimum requirement of presenting data and as much as possible testable hypotheses’.

The IPS 2006 Congress website states that the conference is ‘dedicated to research, conservation and education’, and similarly the IPS itself ‘is organized exclusively for scientific, educational and charitable purposes.’ Also under the ‘General Guidelines for preparing abstracts’ for the IPS 2006 Congress it doesn’t say that data is a ‘minimum requirement’, rather it says, in point j, ‘We encourage reporting statistical results in the abstract’.

What is presented in The Human Condition Documentary Proposal is a biological synthesis of explanation of the human condition based on the testable and data-based physics of negative entropy’s development of order of matter in Part 1, on the testable and data-based primatological evidence for nurturing having created humans’ sense of morality in Part 2, on the testable and data-based evidence for alienation having blocked consciousness in other species and the lack of it having liberated consciousness in our primate forebears in Part 3, and on the testable and data-based evidence for a conflict between this original moral sense and this newer conscious state having caused our human condition in Part 4.

Such a synthesis of explanation for the all-important issue of our human condition (as E.O. Wilson has said, ‘The human condition is the most important frontier of the natural sciences’) has been presented in the Proposal in as concise a form as is possible. To have included the actual data for the existence of negative entropy in Part 1 or the actual data for bonobos being matriarchal etc, etc, in Part 2, etc, etc for Parts 3 and 4, would have made the presentation of the synthesis impractically long. It simply would not have been manageable and, as well as this, the great majority of the evidence presented for the synthesis, such as that bonobos are matriarchal, is now well accepted as being true, and above all, as mentioned above, your Guidelines state that you only ‘encourage’ actual data; it is NOT stated as a necessity. Further, I emphasise that all the elements of the synthesis are ‘testable’ and to say they are not, and this time infer they are not, is a most serious misrepresentation.

I think it could be said that the only possible interpretation is that you do not wish to receive anything that looks at larger, overall issues, because such macro views will inevitably require a synthesis of explanations, the length and scope of which will preclude micro data and such a document you are in effect saying you are not prepared to receivethis despite your primary mission statements being to encourage ‘science’ and ‘education’.

It was the legendary palaeontologist Louis Leakey’s vision that initiated the pioneer field work in primatology by Fossey, Goodall and Galdikas to carry out studies of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos (later changed to orangutans), and his vision he said was based on the belief ‘that knowledge of the past would help us to understand and possibly control the future’ (Disclosing the Past, Mary Leakey, 1984). To exclude from your agenda (and this is AFTER the event because as I’ve pointed out above it’s not in fact excluded because you only say ‘encourage’) accountable and well supported presentations that address the key, greater issue in being able ‘to understand and possibly control our future’ of our primate-past-influenced human condition is to, I strongly suggest, fail at the most primary level of your responsibilities and stated role and function.

You say your decision was arrived at ‘in good faith’ and I have to accept that at face value, however as I stated in my previous email ‘the human condition is a very contentious subject, dealing as it boldly does with issues such as meaning, purpose and morality, and ultimately the issue of “self”’, and as a result some scientists do find ‘the subject an anathema’ (this despite E.O. Wilson’s inference that it is the subject science now has to address if there is to be a future for the human race). As well as many marvellous letters of endorsement for the Proposal we also receive many angry letters of rejection claiming ‘ideas about purpose and morality are untestable and relate to religious concepts which fall outside the scope of science’. This is uncomfortably reminiscent of the ‘untestable’ reason the IPS 2006 Congress Committee has given me and which I have explained is an entirely untrue reason. I would note here that many tried to argue that ‘natural selection’ was an untestable hypothesis when it was first put forwardsuch as Bishop Wilberforce in the great debate at Oxford saying it was ‘a theory which cannot be demonstrated to be impossible’, Geologist Adam Sedgwick saying ‘it is not a proposition evolved out of the facts...it is based upon assumptions which can neither be proved nor disproved’, palaeontologist Louis Agassiz saying ‘absolutely no facts can be referred to as proving evolution’, and more recently philosopher Karl Popper first saying ‘Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory’. With regard to the inevitable and necessary reconciliation of science and religion, Nobel Laureate Charles H. Townes, who by the way has responded positively to the Documentary Proposal, has said, ‘For they [religion and science] both represent man’s efforts to understand his universe and must ultimately be dealing with the same substance. As we understand more in each realm, the two must grow together...converge they must’ (The Convergence of Science and Religion, Zygon, Vol.1 No.3).

I suggest the coming great debate in the scientific world will be about these ideas that explain our human condition, in particular about the subject of my abstract on how nurturing made us human, which as emphasised on page 40 of the Documentary Proposal was first put forward in 1874 by John Fiske. The signs are that the International Primatological Society is going to be on the side of keeping humanity in the dark ages and for such a scientific, primatological society I think such a prospect would be appalling.

 

Yours sincerely,
Jeremy Griffith

 

Note: Jeremy’s second letter of appeal above was sent to 38 members of the IPS Congress Committee, two of whom replied: Dr Alistair McNeilage and Dr Elisabetta Visalberghi, Secretary General of the IPS and Editorial Board Member of the IJP. Dr McNeilage’s reply, and the correspondence with Dr Visalberghi, is included below:

 

Dr Alistair McNeilage’s Response

22 November 2005

 

Dear Jeremy,

 

Thanks for your email, but I’m afraid I agree with the congress organisers that this is not an appropriate presentation for the scientific section of the congress. Please note that abstracts were sent out to external reviewers, this is not simply the decision of Dr Olupot or any other individual organiser.

However, as you say, it is an interesting subject, and I wonder whether there could be some other sort of opportunity during the congress for you to give a talk, or show a video or some such thing-for example an informal evening presentation?

 

Best regards,
Alistair McNeilage

 

Jeremy’s Cover Letter to Dr Visalberghi

21 November 2005

 

Dear Dr Visalberghi,

 

Tim Macartney-Snape of FHA Publishing & Communications has sent you The Human Condition Documentary Proposal and since then has had correspondence with you regarding the IPS and its journal. As author of the synopses in the Proposal, Tim has informed me that you will discuss his points at the next Council meeting and will let him know of the result. We look forward to hearing from you on this issue. On another matter, some months ago I submitted an abstract to the IPS 2006 Congress to be held in Uganda. I am aware that you are a member of the Congress Advisory Committee and an IPS Officer and as such I wanted to inform you of a complaint I have registered with the Congress Committee President, Dr William Olupot in the hope that you will agree with my position and express your concerns to the Committee.

My abstract, titled Nurturing as the Prime Mover in Primate Development and Human Origins (a copy included in the attachment) was rejected on the grounds that it ‘presents no data nor a testable hypothesis and is therefore inappropriate for this congress’ (copy attached). I appealed this decision (copy attached) on the basis that the synthesis is supported by data-based and testable evidence, such as that bonobos are matriarchal, even though the actual data for the evidence wasn’t able to be included because the length of the Proposal was already extremely long. The President of the IPS 2006 Congress Committee, Dr William Olupot, responded essentially reasserting that the abstract didn’t ‘satisfy the minimum requirement of presenting data and as much as possible testable hypotheses’ (copy attached). The following is my response to Dr Olupot complaining that a serious wrong has occurred [Jeremy’s second letter of appeal was then included].

 

Yours sincerely,
Jeremy Griffith

 

Dr Visalberghi’s Reply to Jeremy’s Second Letter of Appeal

21 November 2005

 

Dear Jeremy Griffith,

 

Unfortunately there is nothing I can do to help your abstract to be accepted. Abstracts are evaluated by a Committee of several scientists chosen by the IPS on the basis of their scientific expertise about primates. The decisions taken are the results of what they discussed and decided. Moreover, I should mention to you that I do agree with the decision taken. As I told you, we will discuss the material you sent me in the next Council meeting.

 

Sincerely,
Dr Elisabetta Visalberghi

 

Jeremy’s Response to Dr Visalberghi

22 November 2005

 

Dear Dr Visalberghi,

 

Thank you for your reply to my complaint to the IPS Congress Committee. As I have laid out, I do consider what has occurred an extremely serious matter and I believe history will bear out everything I have said. I am withdrawing my membership of the IPS as the strongest expression of protest now available to me.

 

Yours sincerely,
Jeremy Griffith