Biology

Robert Seyfarth on Radio Times

June 11, 2007
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Robert Seyfarth on Radio Times

Robert Seyfarth, co-author of Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind was recently featured on WHYY Philadelphia ‘s Radio Times with host Marty Moss-Coane. According to the Radio Times website, Seyfarth draws from his new book to discuss how “baboons relate to each other and understand their place in the world as well as what can we learn from them about human behavior.” Archived audio of the radio show is available via the WHYY Radio Times website. In Baboon Metaphysics Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert Seyfarth aim to fully comprehend the intelligence that underlies baboon’s social organization. How do baboons actually conceive of the world and their place in it? Using innovative field experiments, the authors test whether baboons understand kinship relations, how they make use of vocal communication, and how they manage the stress and dangers of life in the wild. They learn that for baboons, just as for humans, family and friends hold the key to mitigating the ill effects of grief, stress, and anxiety. Written with a scientist’s precision and a nature-lover’s eye, Baboon Metaphysics gives us an unprecedented and compelling glimpse into the mind of another species. Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Press Release: Gosnell, Ice

June 5, 2007
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Press Release: Gosnell, Ice

More brittle than glass, at times stronger than steel, at other times flowing like molasses, ice covers 10 percent of the earth’s land and 7 percent of its oceans. In Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance author Mariana Gosnell explores the history and uses of ice in all its complexity, grandeur, and significance. From the freezing of Pleasant Lake in New Hampshire to the breakup of a Vermont river at the onset of spring, from the frozen Antarctic landscape that emperor penguins inhabit to the cold, watery route bowhead whales take between Arctic ice floes, Gosnell examines icebergs, icicles, and frostbite; sea ice and permafrost; ice on Mars and in the rings of Saturn; and several new forms of ice developed in labs. A record of the scientific surprises, cultural magnitude, and everyday uses of frozen water, Ice is a sparkling illumination of a substance whose ebbs and flows over time have helped form the world we live in. Read the press release. . . .

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Review: Cheney and Seyfarth, Baboon Metaphysics

May 29, 2007
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Review: Cheney and Seyfarth, Baboon Metaphysics

Dorothy Cheney and Richard Seyfarth’s new book, Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind, has received several notable reviews over the past month. Writing in the May 19 issue of New Scientist primatologist Frans de Waal notes the the author’s insightful study of baboons’ social organization, and the implications of their research in gaining a better understanding of our own human society. Steven Poole also reviewed the book for the May 12 issue of the Guardian noting the book’s entertaining study of the often dramatic social lives of these primates. Poole writes: What have years of observing wild baboons in Botswana taught the authors about social thinking and learning abilities? The vivid narrative is like a bush detective story, as the authors conduct ingenious experiments, setting up loudspeakers to play back prerecorded baboon calls (the baboons recognize individual voices, and act surprised if a sequence indicates a violation of rank), or lament the loss of their favorites to lions and leopards. The detail of how baboons keep track of the, er, grunting order is almost novelistic, as we track social peaks and troughs in their lives, and the authors’ conclusions have intriguing implications for the evolution of language . . .

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Deep Sea Doubleheader

May 24, 2007
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Deep Sea Doubleheader

The May 20th Boston Globe featured a review of not one, but two new books celebrating the “breathtaking diversity of life” inhabiting the earth’s deep oceans. Reviewer Anthony Doerr writes: Two new books from the University of Chicago should help forever banish the paradigm of the lifeless deep. Tony Koslow’s The Silent Deep is an illustrated survey of deep-sea ecology, deeply informed by history and rendered in straightforward, careful prose. Claire Nouvian’s The Deep is a big, glossy book of deep-water photographs, punctuated with short essays by 15 leading oceanographers. (Koslow has an essay in Nouvian’s book. ) The two books present earth’s biggest, strangest ecosystem with reverence and wonder. Koslow tells the stories of deep-sea pioneers like Wyville Thomson and William Beebe; tours us past hydrothermal vents, underwater mountains, and whale falls; and laments the destruction of deep-water habitats caused by mining, pollution, and bottom trawling. Nouvian’s The Deep features more than 200 color portraits of the planet’s least-known creatures: sparkling pink octopi like floating lanterns; iridescent squid with corkscrew tails; predatory fish with hooded eyes and translucent teeth looming in the darkness. Some of these are the first-ever photographs of certain organisms. At least eight of the pictures . . .

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Press Release: Cheney and Seyfarth, Baboon Metaphysics

May 23, 2007
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Press Release: Cheney and Seyfarth, Baboon Metaphysics

Watching primates at zoos is so fascinating because they seem to relate to one another as individuals; we see in their actions and vocalizations signs of friendship, rivalry, and even love. But how much of what we see is just our anthropomorphizing? How do primates really understand their relationships and their place in the world? The fruit of fifteen years living with baboons in their native habitat, Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind answers these questions and more, showing us how baboons understand themselves and their world. The drama of rank and kinship, the authors reveal, would be right at home in Jane Austen, as the baboons make and break alliances with friends, relatives, and rivals. Through unprecedented field experiments, Cheney and Seyfarth enable us to understand the intelligence underlying these bonds and the forms of communications baboons employ to manage their relationships—and the dangers and stress of living in the wild. Baboon Metaphysics gives us an unprecedented and compelling glimpse into the mind of this most fascinating species. Read the press release. Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Review: Nouvian, The Deep

May 22, 2007
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Review: Nouvian, The Deep

Claire Nouvian’s The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss has been making waves in the media lately with reviews in Discover Magazine, the BBC’s Focus Magazine, and the Literary Review among others. But this morning’s piece in the New York Times probably weighs in as the book’s best review yet. The science section of the May 22 edition features an enthusiastic review of Nouvian’s fascinating illustrated journey into the abyss, complete with an interactive slide show featuring a sampling of the often beautiful—and sometimes scary—images that grace the pages of her new book. Reviewer William J. Broad writes for the NYT: In preface, Ms. Nouvian writes of an epiphany that began her undersea journey. “It was as though a veil had been lifted,” she says, “revealing unexpected points of view, vaster and more promising.” The photographs she has selected celebrate that sense of the unexpected. Bizarre species from as far down as four and half miles are shown in remarkable detail, their tentacles lashing, eyes bulging, lights flashing. The eerie translucence of many of the gelatinous creatures seems to defy common sense. They seem to be living water. On page after page, it is as if aliens . . .

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Press Release: Bliss, The Discovery of Insulin

May 14, 2007
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Press Release: Bliss, The Discovery of Insulin

In The Discovery of Insulin—a brilliant, definitive history of one of the most significant and controversial medical events of modern times—award-winning historian Michael Bliss brings to light a bizarre clash of scientific personalities. When F. G. Banting and J. J. R. Macleod won the 1923 Nobel Prize for discovering and isolating insulin, Banting immediately announced that he was dividing his share of the prize with his young associate, C. H. Best. Macleod divided his share with a fourth member of the team, J. B. Collip. For the next sixty years medical opinion was intensely divided over the allotment of credit for the discovery of insulin. In resolving this controversy, Bliss also offers a wealth of new detail on such subjects as the treatment of diabetes before insulin and the life-and-death struggle to manufacture insulin. Read the press release. . . .

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Press Release: Koslow, The Silent Deep

May 11, 2007
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Press Release: Koslow, The Silent Deep

For thousands of years, both scientists and novices alike underestimated the enormous diversity of life in the deep seas. And until recently, they were right—or at least they were not yet proved wrong. Only in the last fifty years or so did the deep sea reveal itself to be a source of unimaginable wonders—Lilliputian fauna on the seafloor; seemingly bizarre life forms at mid-ocean depths; profusion of life at hot vents, cold seeps, and whale falls; and coldwater corals and fisheries on seamounts and deepwater reefs. The deep sea is, indeed, the last unexplored frontier on the planet. But just as research and exploration are rendering the briny deep accessible, a host of new threats is endangering it—the spread of trawling into the deep ocean, the buildup of humanity’s worst pollutants in deepwater life-forms, the potential consequences of climate change and ocean acidification, and the future mining of seabed minerals and methane hydrates for hydrocarbons. The Silent Deep: The Discovery, Ecology, and Conservation of the Deep Sea tells the stories of discovery of the deep sea, the ecologies of its ecosystems, and of the impact of humans, highlighting the importance of global stewardship in keeping this delicate ecosystem alive and . . .

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Review: Cheney, Baboon Metaphysics

May 9, 2007
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Review: Cheney, Baboon Metaphysics

The ALA’s Booklist magazine recently ran a positive review of Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth’s new book, Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. The review notes that many recent book-length studies of primates have successfully documented primate social organization, but not until Cheney and Seyfarth’s ground breaking new study has anyone attempted to document the intelligence that underlies it. Nancy Bent writes for Booklist: Primatologists Cheney and Seyfarth have studied the same troop of chacma baboons since 1992, and here they demonstrate the importance of their social behavior. Living in a world of predators, baboons must rely on each other for safety, and the resulting large groups they live in are perfect hotbeds for complicated relationships. Matrilineal groups of females retain status by helping their own kin, whereas males act individually and for themselves. Females form short-term bonds with males for mating and long-term friendships with the same or other males for protection. But how do baboons view the world? How do they decide who to associate with, who to defer to, and who to dominate? Cheney and Seyfarth discuss these and other related questions in a style that both explains complex concepts and challenges the . . .

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Review: Nouvian, The Deep

May 8, 2007
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Review: Nouvian, The Deep

Another great review of a book the critics can’t stop talking about, Claire Nouvian’s The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss received high praise from reviewer Andrew Robinson in this month’s issue of the Literary Review. The review begins: When Robert Hooke published his famous folio of drawings, Micrographia, based on observations using a simple microscope and including astonishing fold-out copperplate engravings (some by Christopher Wren), the book caused a sensation and became a bestseller. Samuel Pepys bought it, sat up until 2am reading it, and noted in his diary for 1665 that it was ‘the most ingenious book I ever read in my life’. It is possible that Claire Nouvian’s The Deep will have a similar impact in our time, given its perfect marriage of astounding images with ingenious science and exotic ideas. This superbly designed large-format book of photographs of deep-sea creatures, eloquently edited by a French journalist and film director, with brief and highly readable contributions from sixteen leading scientific explorers of the deep, is eye-poppingly magnificent. So much so that it provokes gasps of amazement and awe at the complexity, beauty and uniqueness of life in the abyss. … The Deep deserves to become a . . .

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