Are Pigs Really Like People?

We hear this all the time. Pig physiology is like people physiology. Pigs and humans have the same immune system, same digestive system, get the same diseases. Pigs are smart like people are smart. Pigs are smarter than dogs. And so on. Ask a faunal expert in archaeology or a human paleoanatomist: Pig teeth are notoriously like human teeth, when fragmented. Chances are most of these alleged similarities are overstated, or are simply because we are all mammals. Some are because we happen to have similar diets (see below). None of these similarities occur because of a shared common ancestor or because we are related to pigs evolutionarily, though there are people who claim that humans are actually chimpanzee-pig hybrids. We aren’t.

But what if it is true that pigs and humans ended up being very similar in a lot of ways? What if many of the traits we attribute to our own species, but that are rare among non-human animals, are found in pigs? Well, before addressing that question, it is appropriate to find out if the underlying assumption has any merit at all. A new study by Lori Marino and Christina Colvin, “Thinking Pigs: A Comparative Review of Cognition, Emotion, and Personality in Sus domesticus,” published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, provides a starting point.

There are two things you need to know about this study. First, it is a review, looking at a large number of prior studies of pigs. It is not new research and it is not a critical meta-study of the type we usually see in health sciences. The various studies reviewed are not uniformly evaluated and there is no attempt at assessing the likelihood that any particular result is valid. That is not the intent of the study, which is why it is called a review and not a meta-study, I assume. But such reviews have value because they put a wide range of literature in one place which forms a starting point for other research. The second thing you need to know is that the authors are heavily invested in what we loosely call “animal rights,” as members of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy and the Someone Project (Farm Sanctuary). From this we can guess that a paper that seems to show pigs-human similarities would ultimately be used for advocating for better treatment for domestic pigs, which are raised almost entirely for meat. There is nothing wrong with that, but it should be noted.

In a moment I’ll run down the interesting findings on pig behavior, but first I want to outline the larger context of what such results may mean. The paper itself does not make an interpretive error about pig behavior and cognition, but there is a quote in the press release that I’m afraid will lead to such an error, and I want to address this. The quote from the press release is:

Dr. Marino explains that “We have shown that pigs share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans. There is good scientific evidence to suggest we need to rethink our overall relationship to them.”

What does that mean? In particular, what does the word “relationship” mean? In a behavioral comparative study, “relationship” almost always refers to the evolutionary structure of the traits being observed. For example, consider the question of self awareness, as often tested with the Gallup Test, which measures Mirror Self Recognition (MSR). If a sufficient sample of test animals, when looking in a mirror almost always perceive a conspecific, then that species is considered to not have MSR. If most, or even many, individuals see themselves, then that species is said to have MSR, a kind of self awareness that is linked to a number of important other cognitive capacities.

Humans have MSR. So, do our nearest relatives, the chimps have it? Do the other apes have it? Other primates? Is this a general mammalian capacity or is it a special-snowflake trait of our own species? It turns out that all the great apes have MSR, but primates generally do not. It may or may not appear among other primates (mostly not). So MSR reflects something that evolved, likely, in the common ancestor of humans and all the other apes. So, the relationship among the primates with respect to MSR, phylogenetically, is that MSR is a shared derived trait of the living apes, having evolved in or prior to that clade’s last common ancestor.

But we also see MSR in other species including, for example, elephants. The presents of MSR in elephants does not mean MSR is a widespread trait that humans and elephants both have because a common ancestor hat it. Rather, in some cases (the great apes), MSR is clustered in a set of closely related species because it evolved in their ancestor, and at the same time, it appears here and there among other species for either similar reasons, or perhaps even for different reasons.

This is why the word “relationship” is so important in this kind of research.

It is clear that Dr. Marino does not use the word “relationship” in that press release to mean that pigs and humans share interesting cognitive and behavioral traits because of common ancestry, but rather, I assume, the implication is that we may want to think harder about how we treat pigs because they are a bit like us.

One could argue, of course, that a species that is a lot like us for reasons other than shared evolutionary history is a bit spooky. Uncanny valley spooky. Or, one could argue that such a species is amazing and wonderful, because we humans know we are amazing and wonderful so they should be too. Indeed one could argue, as I have elsewhere, that similarity due to shared ancestry and similarity due to evolutionary convergence are separate and distinct factors in how we ultimately define our relationship to other species, how we treat them, what we do or not do with them. The important thing here, that I want to emphasize, is that human-pig similarity is not the same thing as human-chimp similarity. Both are important but they are different and should not be conflated. I honestly don’t think the paper’s authors are conflating them, but I guarantee that if this paper gets picked up by the press, conflation will happen. I’ll come back to a related topic at the end of this essay.

I’ve been interested in pigs for a long time. I’ve had a lot of interactions with wild pigs while working in Africa, both on the savanna and the rain forest. One of the more cosmopolitain species, an outlier because it is a large animal, is the bush pig. Bush pigs live in very arid environments as well as the deepest and darkest rain forests. There are more specialized pigs as well. The forest pig lives pretty much only in the forest, and the warthog does not, preferring savanna and somewhat dry habitats. Among the African species, the bush pig is most like the presumed wild form of the domestic pig, which for its part lived across a very large geographical area (Eurasia) and in a wide range of habitats. I would not be surprised if their populations overlapped at some times in the past. This is interesting because it is very likely that some of the traits reviewed by Marino and Colvin allow wild pigs to live in such a wide range of habitats. There are not many large animals that have such a cosmopolitain distribution. Pigs, elephants, humans, a few others. Things that know something about mirrors. Coincidence? Probably not.

Pigs (Sus domesticus and its wild form) have an interesting cultural history in the west. During more ancient times, i.e., the Greek and Roman classical ages, pigs were probably very commonly raised and incorporated in high culture. One of Hercules seven challenges was to mess with a giant boar. Pigs are represented in ancient art and iconography as noble, or important, and generally, with the same level of importance as cattle.

Then something went off for the pigs. Today, two of the major Abrahamic religions view pigs as “unclean.” Ironically, this cultural insult is good for the pigs, because it also takes them right off the menu. In modern Western culture, most pigs are viewed as muddy, dirty, squealing, less than desirable forms. Bad guys are often depicted as pigs. One in three pigs don’t understand their main predator, the wolf. There are important rare exceptions but they are striking because they are exceptions. This denigration of pigs in the West is not found globally, and in Asia pigs have always been cool, sometimes revered, always consumed.

I should note that I learned a lot of this stuff about pigs working with my good fiend and former student Melanie Fillios, who did her thesis (published here) on complexity in Bronze Age Greece, and that involved looking at the role of pigs in the urban and rural economies. At that time Melanie and I looked at the comparative behavioral and physical biology of cattle vs. pigs. This turns out to be very interesting. If you started out with a two thousand pounds of pig and two thousand pounds of cattle, and raised them as fast as you could to increase herd size, in a decade you would have a large herd of cattle, but if you had been raising pigs, you’d have enough pigs to cover the earth in a layer of them nine miles thick. OK, honesty, I just made those numbers up, but you get the idea; Pigs can reproduce more than once a year, have large litters, come to maturity very quickly, and grow really fast. Cattle don’t reproduce as fast, grow slower, take longer to reach maturity, and have only one calf at a time.

On the other hand, if you have cattle, you also have, potentially, milk (and all that provides), hoof and horn (important in ancient economies) and maybe better quality leather. I’ll add this for completeness: Goats are basically small cows with respect to these parameters.

Now, having said all that, I’ll summarize the material in the paper so you can learn how amazing pigs are. From the press release:

  • have excellent long-term memories;
  • are whizzes with mazes and other tests requiring location of desired objects;
  • can comprehend a simple symbolic language and can learn complex combinations of symbols for actions and objects;
  • love to play and engage in mock fighting with each other, similar to play in dogs and other mammals;
  • live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals and learn from one another;
  • cooperate with one another and show signs of Machiavellian intelligence such as perspective-taking and tactical deception;
  • can manipulate a joystick to move an on-screen cursor, a capacity they share with chimpanzees;
  • can use a mirror to find hidden food;
  • exhibit a form of empathy when witnessing the same emotion in another individual.
  • Pigs are very snout oriented. They have lots of nerve endings in their snouts and can use the information they get from this tactile organ for social interactions and finding food. They can tell things apart very easily, learn new classifications, and remember objects and things about them. This makes sense for an animal that forages at the ground surface, including underground, for a very wide range of food types.

    One of the cool human traits we often look for in other animals is the ability to time travel. We don’t actually travel in time, but in our minds, we can put ourselves in other places and other times, and run scenarios. Some of the basic capacities required to do this include a sense of lengths of times for future events or situations, and an understanding of these differences. Pigs can learn that of two enclosures they can choose from, one will let them out sooner than the other one, for example.

    Pigs have excellent spatial memory and can learn where things are and how to find them. They can do mazes as well as other animals that have been tested in this area.

    Pigs have individual personalities, to a large degree, and can discriminate among other individuals and recognize certain aspects of their mental state. This applies to other individual pigs as well as individuals of other species (like humans).

    Pigs have a certain degree of Machiavellian intelligence. This is rare in the non-human animal world. If a pig has the foraging pattern for a given area down well, and a potential competitor pig is introduced, the knowledgable pig will play dumb about finding food. They don’t have MSR but they can use mirrors to find food.

    Now, back to the evolutionary context. I’ve already hinted about this a few times. Pigs and humans share their cosmopolitain distribution, with large geographic ranges and a diversity of habitats. We also share a diverse diet. But, it goes beyond that, and you probably know that I’ve argued this before. Pigs are root eaters, as are humans, and this feature of our diet is probably key in our evolutionary history. From my paper, with Richard Wrangham, on this topic:

    We propose that a key change in the evolution of hominids from the last common ancestor shared with chimpanzees was the substitution of plant underground storage organs (USOs) for herbaceous vegetation as fallback foods. Four kinds of evidence support this hypothesis: (1) dental and masticatory adaptations of hominids in comparison with the African apes; (2) changes in australopith dentition in the fossil record; (3) paleoecological evidence for the expansion of USO-rich habitats in the late Miocene; and (4) the co-occurrence of hominid fossils with root-eating rodents. We suggest that some of the patterning in the early hominid fossil record, such as the existence of gracile and robust australopiths, may be understood in reference to this adaptive shift in the use of fallback foods. Our hypothesis implicates fallback foods as a critical limiting factor with far-reaching evolutionary e?ects. This complements the more common focus on adaptations to preferred foods, such as fruit and meat, in hominid evolution.

    Pigs and humans actually share dental and chewing adaptations adapted, in part, for root eating. The pig’s snout and the human’s digging stick have been suggested (see the paper) as parallelisms. And so on.

    Yes, humans and pigs share an interesting evolutionary relationship, with many of our traits being held in common. But this is not because of shared ancestry, but rather, because of similar adaptive change, independent, in our evolutionary history. This whole root eating thing arose because of a global shift from forests to mixed woodland and otherwise open habitats, which in turn encouraged the evolution of underground storage organs among many species of plants, which in turn caused the rise of a number of above ground root eaters, animals that live above the surface but dig. Not many, but some. Pigs, us, and a few others.

    That does not make us kin, but it does make us kindred.

    Comments

    1. #1 Brainstorms
      June 11, 2015

      Regarding the prohibition against eating pork for the two major Abrahamic religions, here’s the explanation I was told: Both of these cultures were desert dwellers and pre-date the use of refrigeration. Pork is a “fatty meat”, and apparently does not lend itself well to the typical methods of preserving meat in these climates as compared to cattle, goats, and sheep. Ergo, prohibit their consumption to avoid issues with rancidity.

      This was also the explained justification for alcohol prohibition as well: It promotes dehydration — a bad thing if you live in a desert climate.

      I have also wondered if trichinosis was a reason for banning pork, too.

      Tasty… But dangerous to hunt, dangerous to eat.

    2. #2 Bruce Jensen
      June 11, 2015

      Excellent discussion, Greg. Pigs are enough like us (as are all other animals) to treat them with a fair ration of respect and compassion, with which they are not now accorded. That much cannot be argued away logically.

    3. #3 Itzak Pollatsek
      June 11, 2015

      As a Jew from a traditional family I can attest that it has always been the belief of my family (and every and any Jew Ive known) that the kosher ban on shellfish and pork (other then a pact with god) comes from health concerns arisen from lack of means with which to assure its safe consumption. As per Brainstorms earlier post.

    4. #4 See Noevo
      June 11, 2015

      I was thinking maybe pigs aren’t like people because they have 48 chromosomes, while humans have 46.

      But then, chimpanzees have 48 chromosomes, and we’re said to share a common ancestor.

      As I write this, I’m smoking a cigar, a Padrón, no less. And coincidentally, I noticed that tobacco has 48 chromosomes.

      So, maybe I’m smoking my distant relative.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_organisms_by_chromosome_count

    5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
      June 11, 2015

      A new study by Lori Marino and … the authors are heavily invested in what we loosely call “animal rights,” …

      Perhaps – I hope – this is purely coincidental, but keep in the back of your mind that another Marino has earned a scary reputation as a violent antagonist of scientific research using animals through her semi-underground organization “Negotiation Is Over”.

    6. #6 Muriel
      www.ueberschaubarerelevanz.com
      June 12, 2015

      Wow, thank you! I’ve been thinking about exactly this for so long, and talking to friends about how you always read pigs are so similar to humans, but never in any detail.
      Glad to have learned more about them.

    7. #7 bobsmith
      June 12, 2015

      Re: Pierce R. Butler

      That’s an interesting case study in whether the ends justifies the means. If it is wrong to experiment on animals then perhaps it is morally justifiable to threaten researchers that do. I don’t think so, because I don’t believe the ends justify the means. However what if the researchers were experimenting on disabled humans? Would it be wrong to threaten them with violence in that case? I personally cannot see substantial distinction between animals (human or non-human) with the same intellect. Therefore am pressured to admit that even threatening researchers experimenting on humans would be morally wrong and we would just have to sit by and protest with no recourse for using force if it was an acceptable scientific practice.

    8. #8 L.Long
      June 12, 2015

      @#1…The trichinosis thing was debunked a while back, and it comes down to ..they weren’t that smart.
      But the rest sounds very plausible, and something that desert peoples would be affected by on a large scale.

      Pigs smarter then dogs? Ya! I can buy that with no problem! Most dogs I’ve met are as stupid as what comes out their butts.

      Southern pig farmer…..”I’ll pay attention pigs being smart when they can use a gun to stop me eating bacon!”

    9. #9 Brainstorms
      June 12, 2015

      bobsmith #7: No, it is not morally justifiable to threaten researchers for what they do (in the ways you imply) — even if they are breaking the law. (I will omit the obvious exceptions to that statement, both because they are obvious and because they are beside the point.)

      Experimenting on disabled humans is already proscribed; your strawman is invalid, as is your conclusion that absent of threats, you cannot do anything.

      Your last sentence equates to saying, “I cannot use force against my law-abiding neighbor if I don’t approve of his lawful behavior.” That is correct… and it is rather odd for you to imply that this is some sort of tragedy.

      The morally correct response you seem to miss (or avoid?) is to pass laws and institutional policies to govern the behaviors we wish to encourage or see avoided, enforce those laws/policies properly, and vote with your feet, dollars, and ballots to apply (morally acceptable) pressure to achieve the set of rules to govern society that we collectively see as being ethical.

      We, as citizens of “enlightened society”, do not have the moral, let alone legal, right to play judge, jury, or executioner regardless of the extent that our personal sensibilities are offended by what the law allows our neighbors to do. These restrictions also apply to our advocacy group and political party affiliations.

    10. #10 Brainstorms
      June 12, 2015

      A rather timely co-incidence: A story about a radio host in Denmark who killed a rabbit on air (radio, not TV) May 25th, then made & ate a ragout from its meat (saving a cow in the process by foregoing a trip to the corner butcher).

      http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/06/11/he-killed-a-rabbit-live-on-air-and-this-is-why-he-did-it/

      The threats he received are both mostly hypocritical (his point) and wholly inappropriate (i.e., immoral, per #9). A not-unexpected response from the public, but disappointing nonetheless…

      If you cannot stomach the fact that we kill animals to eat their flesh, are you becoming a vegetarian to relieve your conscience? How about eschewing leather goods? (BTW, you’ll have to give up Jello, too.)

    11. #11 Roman
      United Kingdom
      June 13, 2015

      “We, as citizens of “enlightened society”, do not have the moral, let alone legal, right to play judge, jury, or executioner regardless of the extent that our personal sensibilities are offended by what the law allows our neighbors to do. ”

      The problem with animal experiments or factory farming, similar to the problem with Mengele’s experiments in Auschwitz or the slavery of black people in Southern USA, is not that it “offends our sensibilities”. The problem is that both are cruel, barbaric, inhuman and evil.

    12. #12 Roman
      United Kingdom
      June 13, 2015

      “Southern pig farmer…..”I’ll pay attention pigs being smart when they can use a gun to stop me eating bacon!””

      This is precisely the same logic which was used in the XIXth century to justify colonialism. “We can oppress these people because they are weak enough to let us oppress them”.

    13. #13 E. Carpenter
      June 13, 2015

      @1 @3 About the prohibition of eating pig meat in two Abrahamic religions: there’s no evidence from the time the dietary laws were written that the impetus for making them was to improve health. Some of them may, in fact, be healthy – but that’s coincidence, so far as the evidence goes. Most of the laws in that whole code are to set the coreligionists apart from the surrounding peoples – that is explicit. And quite a few of them involve giving up pleasure to demonstrate their commitment to a particular god – from circumcising to giving up pork, it’s pleasure that’s being restricted, not health that’s being promoted.

      The health reasons are a modern back-explanation, to make the restrictions seem more reasonable, less superstitious. In the same way, religious medical “experts” in the late 1800s defined homosexuality as a sickness rather than as a sin to make their prejudices seem more rational and sciency.

    14. #14 Greg Laden
      June 13, 2015

      Yes, the health related explanations don’t explain food taboos in general. Food taboos are very widespread. Non Jewish/Muslim westerners think they don’t have them, but they do. Many cultures have them but if you ask people about them they seem to not recognize them. Others are very aware of them because they are complex. Kosher is simply an example of one of the more complex and ritually integrated taboos, which also is culture wide and generally applicable (some taboos are only for some of the people some of the time or for some of the people all of the time: kosher is for all of the people all of the time but only for certain foods, obviously).

      It is probably true that the development of various food taboos,across the range of cultures, link to a concept of health or danger from certain foods at certain times, but that would be only one factor.

    15. #15 Anthony Popple
      Eden Priairie
      June 13, 2015

      Interesting post! Considering the fact that pigs are domesticated, is it possible some of these similarities were amplified by a relationship with humans in the same way as dogs? If they were already rather clever and observant, they would have been able to safely reduce their flight distance and follow human tribes around.. If humans and pigs already had a similar diet, the pigs may have learned to exploit human behavior for lots of free food.

    16. #16 Greg Laden
      June 14, 2015

      Anthony, good question but probably not.

      First, most domestication events don’t lead to smarter products. Even dogs; wolves are likely “smarter” overall, even if some breeds of dogs are impressive. Breed specific impressive behavior is mostly attained by breaking all the other normal behaviors until you have a really cool parlor trick.

      Also, the original research notes that pigs were primarily bred for their meat and meat-production related products not temperament changes. This makes sense considering that if you let some pigs out into the wild they go feral very easily. The American wild pigs, which are totally normal wild pigs, are domestic pigs let loose at some time in the past.

      (Of course that is true of many domestic animals … they can go feral well. I don’t know of an objective measure.)

      Note that even though pigs are quite widespread, they have only a couple of domestication centers, at most, so it is more likely they were captured and held from wild forms rather than engaging in a cat and mouse game like dogs may have been. But it is possible.

    17. #17 MikeN
      June 14, 2015

      Leading to my favorite quote from Winston Churchill:
      “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us, cats look down on us, but pigs treat us as equals.”

    18. #18 Joseph M.
      Cambridge, Massachusetts
      June 14, 2015

      @5 Pierce R. Butler, re your “keep in the back of your mind that another Marino has earned a scary reputation as a violent antagonist of scientific research.”

      OF COURSE it’s coincidental. So why would you even mention this completely irrelevant issue. Never mind that Marino is a very common surname; Lori Marino is a pioneer investigator in studies of dolphin behavior and on brain imaging in the same group. Dolphins. Captive ones.

      WTF is wrong with your thinking, dude?!!

    19. #19 Brainstorms
      June 14, 2015

      Roman, #11, you paint with too broad a brush.

      ‘The problem with animal experiments or factory farming, similar to the problem with Mengele’s experiments in Auschwitz or the slavery of black people in Southern USA, is not that it “offends our sensibilities”. The problem is that both are cruel, barbaric, inhuman and evil.’

      We can agree on your evaluation of Mengele’s experiments and slavery (skin color is NOT a factor in this case!), but what do you propose as an alternative to testing on animals?

      Shall we test on human babies instead of animals? You may now insert the cry, “We shouldn’t do any testing on humans or animals!”

      Which is equivalent to saying, ‘We’ll effectively start testing on humans when the first of our customers begin using our products.” Hope those first users aren’t babies…

      Go ahead, say it, say it now: “We shouldn’t be developing drugs to relieve suffering because they’ll only require testing — on humans or animals. So we should instead just let people with diseases suffer.”

      Now you have three choices: Who ARE you going to cause to suffer? (The default of not responding or choosing is #3, above.)

    20. #20 Brainstorms
      June 14, 2015

      E. Carpenter, #13, you make a statement that there is no evidence that health concerns played any role in the formation of dietary laws when they were written.

      Then you make a statement that it’s co-incidence, “so far as the evidence goes.” Please enlighten us with your evidence that your statements are correct !

      (I cannot help but to be reminded of the old saw, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” )

      Then you go on to say, “Most of the laws in that whole code are to set the coreligionists apart from the surrounding peoples – that is explicit.”

      You can provide evidence of this claim, too, while you’re at it…

      And then you can show us what it is that has you thinking that people back in the time that these dietary rules were written were incapable of observing health consequences and drawing intelligent conclusions regarding the things people ate and did not eat.

      To paraphrase you, “There’s no evidence from the time the dietary laws were written that the impetus for making them was to set the coreligionists apart from the surrounding peoples” — or that they were merely “superstitious”.

      You might entertain the idea that those who were wise enough to realize that dietary restrictions were necessary to perpetuate public health were also smart enough to link them to religious rites, rituals, and restrictions.

      At the moment I can’t think of a more clever way to achieve this goal. I certainly wouldn’t put it past those who were smart enough to realize that eating certain things was linked to disease risk.

      They may have lived during the Bronze Age, but that does not make them retarded.

    21. #21 Roman Werpachowski
      United Kingdom
      June 14, 2015

      #19

      “We can agree on your evaluation of Mengele’s experiments and slavery (skin color is NOT a factor in this case!), but what do you propose as an alternative to testing on animals?”

      Not testing on animals, obviously.

      1. We do not have any valid reason to test cosmetics on animals. There are numerous brands of cosmetics which are not tested on animals.

      2. Drug testing on animals is largely useless, as it turns out (see e.g. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/20/mice-clinical-trials-human-disease). We have more and more in vitro and in silico tests available. And, in the end, almost every drug IS being tested on humans before being allowed to be given to patients, anyway.

      If this is not sufficient, than we should give up on research requiring causing pain and suffering to animals, just as we would give up on research which would require causing pain and suffering to human babies.

    22. #22 Pierce R. Butler
      June 14, 2015

      Joseph M. @ # 18: … Marino is a very common surname…

      Mebbeso, but to find two people in similar activities having a common name suggests a possible connection to humans as well as NSA computers.

      Thanks for informing me about Lori M’s credentials – I truly am impressed. Nonetheless, it does seem that the two Marinos have worked together, at least on occasion (this is the only search result with both their names I could come up with).

      Why does your thinking turn so quickly to ALL CAPS and personal attacks, dude?

    23. #23 Brainstorms
      June 14, 2015

      #21, no, not entirely. I’m as against needless and cruel (i.e., inappropriate) testing on animals as you are.

      Thanks for the link. Dr Barry makes a statement about using mice for experiments regarding human responses: “They’re fine for ordinary work like toxicology trials. Perfect for checking that no unwanted side-effects crop up when we try a new molecule.” (Prove anything? No. This is one man’s opinion, and like this one article, doesn’t decide the case.)

      While the article does make a good case for not using mice for tuberculosis testing, it goes on to point out that “mice have many advantages for research”, labeling them “remarkable [research] tools” and noting that “in most fields, mice are valuable”. Even Dr Barry, on finding out that mice are “largely useless” for tuberculosis testing, turned to marmosets as a better animal model.

      That’s far from “testing on animals is largely useless”. Best we could say (supported by your article) is that “mice are not perfect substitutes” — nor is any other animal — but they are useful in their way, and that use is often necessary and justified.

      Testing does have a (valid) purpose, but that does not mean that all testing is bad even if some of it is invalid or inappropriate. This is why we (should) have regulations — to provide laws to our corporations to govern their behavior.

      It’s good that we have more in vitro, et al, testing. But it’s not to the point where it can take the place of in vivo testing — any more than mice can substitute for modeling & testing treatments for all human disease, as the article points out.

      My point was that we cannot give up on research — and we cannot tie the hands of researchers, either. Even as we regulate their behavior to prevent needless and inappropriate suffering. As Barry puts it, “I’d much rather not [test with these animals], but in the meantime humans are dying.”

    24. […] (See also: Are Pigs Really Like Humans?) […]

    25. #25 Julian Frost
      Gauteng East Rand
      June 15, 2015

      To add to what Brainstorms said above about reasons for not using pork, Cracked had an article on how religious restrictions on eating foods helped the communities. The reason they gave for restrictions on pork is that it takes far more water to get a kilo of pork than it does to get a kilo of, say, lamb or beef. But Brainstorms’ reasons also make sense.

    26. #26 Roman Werpachowski
      June 15, 2015

      #23

      ” As Barry puts it, “I’d much rather not [test with these animals], but in the meantime humans are dying.””

      What if he said “I’d much rather not test with these prisoners, but in the meantime honest folks are dying”?

      Sorry, I don’t see the benefit to our species as the justification of torturing other species.

    27. #27 Brainstorms
      June 15, 2015

      #26 — I think that (testing on prisoners) has already been done multiple times…

      No one said ethics was easy! The inherent problem with this subject is that it’s “no win”. No matter what you choose to do, and even if you plug your ears, close your eyes, babble, and “choose to do nothing”, you’re still making a choice to make some group of beings suffer as a consequence. It’s just a matter of what your focus is as far as which group you’ll have the least mental anguish over hurting.

      An interesting quirk of humanity is that we tend to discount that which we don’t see & experience first-hand. So faceless, nameless people don’t show up as important to us in the way that a hapless creature on the TV news, a pet, or a lab animal that happens to be in front of us will.

      Look up the famous ethical conundrum known as “The Trolley Problem”. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and no matter what you do (even if you stand there and do nothing), some faction will direct withering criticism at you for your decision.

      I look forward to the day when technology relieves of us this ethical conundrum by making in vitro and in silico testing practical. Until then, we must decide what’s more important: The cute mouse in our lab or the faceless children of our nameless neighbors.

    28. #28 Greg Laden
      June 15, 2015

      This discussion is very interesting. I do hope people have a look at this series of posts about how this discussion may be framed and complexified: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/03/20/animal-rights-and-human-needs/

    29. #29 Roman
      June 15, 2015

      #27

      ” Until then, we must decide what’s more important: The cute mouse in our lab or the faceless children of our nameless neighbors.”

      But most people see it exactly the opposite way: the poor sick child or the faceless animals hidden away in the labs. There is a reason why universities react so angrily to people publicising clandestine photos and movies from their animal experiment laboratories (the same reason why we have gagging laws to prevent people from documenting the conditions on factory farms) – they prefer it this way.

      Regardless of the doubtful usefulness of many of these experiments for science (given the stress these animals suffer, and the known effects of stress on physiology and psychology of living beings, how far can we trust the results of these experiments?), this is what is called a “moral imperative”. We cannot torture other beings for our profit. Allowing the torture of animals in the name of medical progress is as evil as allowing the torture of people suspected of terrorism in the name of security. It’s all part of the same system of oppression of the weak by the strong which humanity has built throughout the centuries. We may think that we can harm weaker beings without consequences, but we suffer from it as well (e.g. it has been shown that people who work in slaughterhouses are more likely to commit violent crimes).

      These labs which torture other beings must be shut down. The system which built these labs must be shut down.

    30. #30 Brainstorms
      June 15, 2015

      #29: No question about it, then — Not only would you not throw the trolley switch, you wouldn’t even think of touching it !

      “We cannot torture other beings for our profit.” But apparently we can (by taking no action) torture humans — is that because they’re our own species?

      Or is it a totally deontological stance, that “We must do nothing, because taking any action places us in moral jeopardy!” ? I.e., there are no “sins of omission”, only “sins of commission”?

      So the questions you now pose are, “Which animal species [including Homo sapiens] is it okay to harm?”
      and
      “Why is stopping others from doing a given bad thing equated with a moral good, while stopping others from doing a given good thing is *also* equated with moral good?”

      I’m really interested in the answer to that second one… ‘Cause you seem VERY sure that your position is air-tight morally certain.

    31. #31 Syd Walker (@SydWalker)
      Far North Queensland, Australia
      June 16, 2015

      An interesting article, Greg Laden.

      You mention in your first paragraph: “there are people who claim that humans are actually chimpanzee-pig hybrids. We aren’t.”

      “There are people..” presumably refers to geneticist Dr Eugene McCarthy, whose work has indeed attracted interest. Odd you don’t mention him – or explain why you appear to reject his hybridisation/back crossing hypothesis out of hand. Perhaps you’d like to explain? Here’s the link to McCarthy’s site for those interested in
      understanding his hypothesis: http://www.macroevolution.net

    32. #32 GregH
      June 17, 2015

      See, here’s where we just go next door and borrow a cup of PZ Myers: “Besides, this new idea is hilarious.”

    33. #33 Syd Walker (@SydWalker)
      Far North Queensland, Australia
      June 17, 2015

      @GregH

      Thank you. I had some time back read the vulgar and trite little piece you refer to in your #32 comment. Perhaps I should have assumed Myers’ snigger was the basis for your dismissive attitude? Anyhow, I did take the trouble to check..

    34. #34 GregH
      June 17, 2015

      @Syd Walker
      Yes, Myers has the annoying habit of being right, and not suffering fools in the process. Are you planning on taking McCarthy’s ideas seriously?

    35. #35 Syd Walker (@SydWalker)
      Far North Queensland, Australia
      June 17, 2015

      @GregH

      As you mentioned Eugene McCarthy’s theory (cryptically, but identifiably) – and dismissed it in the same breathe – i wondered if you had an intelligent critique of the theory to offer readers. Apparently not?

    36. #36 Marco
      June 18, 2015

      Syd Walker, Myers indicated several glaring problems in McCarthy’s *hypothesis* (it is not even close to a theory), but was still kind enough to propose McCarthy a way to test his hypothesis.

      But rather than test his hypothesis, McCarthy is still claiming cabbits (as in rabbit – cat hybrids) as some kind of possible, who knows, really they could be, evidence of hybridization, without ever doing any genetic analysis on any of these supposed hybrids. He’s got a PhD in genetics, so it shouldn’t be all that hard for him. Well, other than actually finding those cabbits.

      As far as I can judge from his list of hybrids (and papers doing such analysis), about the best he can come up with is the geep as an intergenus hybrid. Its fertility is extremely small. For the pig-ape hybrid, he’d have to show interfamily hybridization is possible, and that it was so extremely common that the very likely extremely low fertility was overcome.

    37. #37 Brainstorms
      June 18, 2015

      We shouldn’t forget the antelope-rabbit hybrid that gave us the jackalope…

      Or the bird-reindeer hybrid that produced Santa’s reindeer team.

      But many of us are wondering: was it a rabbit-chicken hybrid or a rabbit-cacao bean hybrid that gave the world the Easter Bunny?

      Scientifically inquiring minds want to know. Perhaps Syd has the answer?

    38. #38 Gene McCarthy
      United States
      June 18, 2015

      Thanks for #35, Syd. Most people seem unable to take a fair and open-minded approach to this issue. Many are unwilling even to consider the idea that we might be pig-ape hybrids. And those who do are often afraid to admit it because they’re afraid their friends would laugh at them. I’ve had colleagues, intelligent people with PhDs in biology, get all excited about the pig theory and rush around to tell their friends, only to face ridicule. Then they back-peddle. I’ve seen it again and again. Much, much safer to stay mum and sit on the sidelines, or better yet to join the witch hunt. Never mind that the mockers are people who haven’t studied the evidence and know nothing about hybridization. There’s an incredible, centuries-old bias on this topic. Even those who have never studied hybridization a day in their lives, are totally convinced that they know exactly what’s possible and what’ not. They have no idea that they are simply repeating unsubstantiated and cliché beliefs. And it’s not just non-scientists who have failed to educate themselves about hybridization. Even most biologists seem to know very little about the topic. How could they? They’ve always dismissed it as a dead-end phenomenon, which they feel is amply summarized by a few (erroneous) platitudes: “Hybrids are sterile”, “Hybrids are rare”, “Hybrids don’t happen without human intervention”; etc., etc. So why would they ever choose to educate themselves on the subject or study it? Catch-22!

    39. #39 Gene McCarthy
      June 18, 2015

      Most people seem unable to take a fair and open-minded approach to this issue. Many are unwilling even to consider the idea that we might be pig-ape hybrids. And those who do are often afraid to admit it because they’re afraid their friends would laugh at them. I’ve had colleagues, intelligent people with PhDs in biology, get all excited about the pig theory and rush around to tell their friends, only to face ridicule. Then they back-peddle. I’ve seen it again and again. Much, much safer to stay mum and sit on the sidelines, or better yet to join the witch hunt. Never mind that the mockers are people who haven’t studied the evidence and know nothing about hybridization. There’s an incredible, centuries-old bias on this topic. Even those who have never studied hybridization a day in their lives, are totally convinced that they know exactly what’s possible and what’s not. They have no idea that they are simply repeating unsubstantiated and cliché beliefs. And it’s not just non-scientists who have failed to educate themselves about hybridization. Even most biologists know very little about the topic. How could they? They’ve always dismissed it as a dead-end phenomenon, which they feel is amply summarized by a few (erroneous) platitudes: “Hybrids are sterile”, “Hybrids are rare”, “Hybrids don’t happen without human intervention”; etc., etc. So why would they ever choose to educate themselves on the subject or study it? Catch-22!

    40. #40 dean
      June 18, 2015

      I’ve had colleagues, intelligent people with PhDs in biology, get all excited about the pig theory and rush around to tell their friends, only to face ridicule. Then they back-peddle. I’ve seen it again and again.

      That sounds amazingly like a line ID/creationists repeat when they talk about how scientists would really like to endorse the ID line but don’t because of fear of losing a job.

      It also lacks just as much credibility as what the ID folks say.

    41. #41 Marco
      June 18, 2015

      Gene McCarthy, where is your genetic analysis that shows hybridization? Surely it should be simple, with the genome of humans, various apes, and pigs well known.

      If that is a bit too hard, why not show us the genetic analysis of the “cabbit” (as in the cat-rabbit hybrid), which you promote on your website as a possible – who-knows – but really they must exist: see the videos! – hybrid. They are supposedly everywhere, so it should be extremely(!) easy to show they are hybrids.

      Simple challenge, Gene McCarthy: find a true cabbit (as in cat-rabbit hybrid), do the genetic analysis, and publish the results. Let it be put on the record that I would already be surprised if you yourself actually find an animal (in person, not just pictures or a video) that you yourself believe to be a true cabbit, and on which you are willing to do a genetic examination.

    42. #42 Brainstorms
      June 18, 2015

      But, but, but… If you succeed with hybridizing apes & pigs, the anti-GMO crowd will get all all medieval on your ass!!

      Besides.. At least with the Western Jackalope (the acclaimed “Warrior Rabbit”) we have *photographic proof* of such hybridization, along with significant data regarding bio-metrics, habitat & range, behavioral traits, etc.:

      http://jackalope.com/legend-of-jackalope/

    43. #43 Brainstorms
      June 18, 2015

      I think McCarthy may gain greater credibility by focusing his research on answering questions regarding the hybridized origin & reproductive traits of Lepus paschalus:

      We know that it must be marsupial, but science still does not know for sure if it lays polychromatic eggs in the manner of Ornithorhynchus anatinus, or is instead viviparous, prefering giving live birth to several sepia-hued, hairless young so favored in the U.S. for use in the preparation of confectioneries.

      About all we’re sure of is that L paschalus’ gestation always completes in March or April, but the exact timing is known to be fiendishly difficult to determine, being influenced by the lunar phase near the vernal equinox.

    44. #44 Gene McCarthy
      June 18, 2015

      Marco (comment #41), you seem to misunderstand what I do. Though I have a PhD in genetics, I have not actually worked in a genetics lab for the last nine years and I’m semi-retired now. But I have for many years collected, and I continue to collect, information about mammalian and avian hybrid crosses. I compile all the information I find in a (hopefully) digestible form and make it available to the public. For example, my book on bird hybrids published by Oxford Univ. Press (http://tinyurl.com/owzmmks), or my ongoing work publishing information about mammalian hybrids (http://tinyurl.com/qxtk2uv). I’ve been looking at reports of hybridization for more than thirty years now, and by now probably I’ve read more than 20,000 reports. And I’ve documented somewhere around 7,000 different types of crosses involving either mammals or birds. Of course, some of those crosses are better documented than others. But whether I consider a given cross to be definitely verified or something closer to hoax or myth, my policy is to include all relevant information for that cross in order to allow readers to make informed decisions of their own. Given the fact that I’m gathering information on thousands of crosses on an ongoing basis, and given that I no longer work in a laboratory (let alone have one of my own!), it’s really not possible for me to carry out the sort of experiments you’re suggesting in the case of the cat-rabbit cross (though I would be extremely interested in seeing the results of such a study). I can only suggest that anyone who’s interested in exploring the subject further go to the page that I’ve created on that topic (http://tinyurl.com/n3jy3y8). I will say, that I do think the animals shown in the videos on that page are not like any cats I have ever seen. For instance, I have never seen cats that like carrots. Nor have I seen cats that hop around like rabbits as they do in those videos, nor ones that appear to have hind legs like those of a rabbit. As for the human thing, I’ve discussed the genetics of that cross at length elsewhere (http://tinyurl.com/pbkalhm), so I won’t comment so here. But if you’ll take the time to read that discussion, I think you’ll see that it’s not at all so simple an issue as you suggest.

    45. #45 Gene McCarthy
      June 18, 2015

      Marco (comment #41), you seem to misunderstand what I do. Though I have a PhD in genetics, I have not actually worked in a genetics lab for the last nine years and I’m semi-retired now. But I have for many years collected, and I continue to collect, information about mammalian and avian hybrid crosses. I compile all the information I find in a (hopefully) digestible form and make it available to the public. For example, my book on bird hybrids published by Oxford Univ. Press (http://tinyurl.com/owzmmks), or my ongoing work publishing information about mammalian hybrids (http://tinyurl.com/qxtk2uv). I’ve been looking at reports of hybridization for more than 30 years now, and by now probably I’ve read more than 20,000 reports. And I’ve documented somewhere around 7,000 different types of crosses involving either mammals or birds. Of course, some of those crosses are better documented than others. But whether I consider a given cross to be definitely verified or something closer to hoax or myth, my policy is to include all relevant information for that cross in order to allow readers to make informed decisions of their own. Given the fact that I’m gathering information on thousands of crosses on an ongoing basis, and given that I no longer work in a laboratory (let alone have one of my own!), it’s really not possible for me to carry out the sort of experiments you’re suggesting in the case of the cat-rabbit cross (though I would be extremely interested in seeing the results of such a study). I can only suggest that anyone who’s interested in exploring the subject further go to the page that I’ve created on that topic (http://tinyurl.com/n3jy3y8). I will say, that I do think the animals shown in the videos on that page are not like any cats I have ever seen. For instance, I have never seen cats that like carrots. Nor have I seen cats that hop around like rabbits as they do in those videos, nor ones that appear to have hind legs like those of a rabbit. As for the human thing, I’ve discussed the genetics of that cross at length elsewhere (http://tinyurl.com/pbkalhm), so I won’t comment so here. But if you’ll take the time to read that discussion, I think you’ll see that it’s not at all so simple an issue as you suggest.

    46. #46 Gene McCarthy
      June 18, 2015

      Marco (comment #41): you seem to misunderstand what I do. Though I have a PhD in genetics, I have not actually worked in a genetics lab for the last nine years and I’m semi-retired now. But I have for many years collected, and I continue to collect, information about mammalian and avian hybrid crosses. I compile all the information I find in a (hopefully) digestible form and make it available to the public. For example, my book on bird hybrids published by Oxford Univ. Press (http://tinyurl.com/owzmmks), or my ongoing work publishing information about mammalian hybrids (http://tinyurl.com/qxtk2uv). I’ve been looking at reports of hybridization for more than thirty years now, and by now probably I’ve read more than 20,000 reports. And I’ve documented somewhere around 7,000 different types of crosses involving either mammals or birds. Of course, some of those crosses are better documented than others. But whether I consider a given cross to be definitely verified or something closer to hoax or myth, my policy is to include all relevant information for that cross in order to allow readers to make informed decisions of their own. Given the fact that I’m gathering information on thousands of crosses on an ongoing basis, and given that I no longer work in a laboratory (let alone have one of my own!), it’s really not possible for me to carry out the sort of experiments you’re suggesting in the case of the cat-rabbit cross (though I would be extremely interested in seeing the results of such a study). I can only suggest that anyone who’s interested in exploring the subject further go to the page that I’ve created on that topic (http://tinyurl.com/n3jy3y8). I will say, that I do think the animals shown in the videos on that page are not like any cats I have ever seen. For instance, I have never seen cats that like carrots. Nor have I seen cats that hop around like rabbits as they do in those videos, nor ones that appear to have hind legs like those of a rabbit. As for the human thing, I’ve discussed the genetics of that cross at length elsewhere (http://tinyurl.com/pbkalhm), so I won’t comment so here. But if you’ll take the time to read that discussion, I think you’ll see that it’s not at all so simple an issue as you suggest.

    47. #47 G
      United States
      June 18, 2015

      Marco (comment #41), you seem to misunderstand what I do. Though I have a PhD in genetics, I have not actually worked in a genetics lab for the last nine years and I’m semi-retired now. But I have for many years collected, and I continue to collect, information about mammalian and avian hybrid crosses. I compile all the information I find in a (hopefully) digestible form and make it available to the public. For example, my book on bird hybrids published by Oxford Univ. Press, or my ongoing work publishing information about mammalian hybrids (http://www.macroevolution.net/mammalian-hybrids.html). I’ve been looking at reports of hybridization for more than thirty years now, and by now probably I’ve read more than 20,000 reports. And I’ve documented somewhere around 7,000 different types of crosses involving either mammals or birds. Of course, some of those crosses are better documented than others. But whether I consider a given cross to be definitely verified or something closer to hoax or myth, my policy is to include all relevant information for that cross in order to allow readers to make informed decisions of their own. Given the fact that I’m gathering information on thousands of crosses on an ongoing basis, and given that I no longer work in a laboratory (let alone have one of my own!), it’s really not possible for me to carry out the sort of experiments you’re suggesting in the case of the cat-rabbit cross (though I would be extremely interested in seeing the results of such a study). I can only suggest that anyone who’s interested in exploring the subject further go to the page that I’ve created on that topic (http://www.macroevolution.net/cat-rabbit-hybrids.html). I will say, that I do think the animals shown in the videos on that page are not like any cats I have ever seen. For instance, I have never seen cats that like carrots. Nor have I seen cats that hop around like rabbits as they do in those videos, nor ones that appear to have hind legs like those of a rabbit. As for the human thing, I’ve discussed the genetics of that cross at length elsewhere (http://www.macroevolution.net/hybrid-hypothesis-section-6.html), so I won’t comment so here. But if you’ll take the time to read that discussion, I think you’ll see that it’s not at all so simple an issue as you suggest.

    48. #48 Gene McCarthy
      June 18, 2015

      Marco (comment #41), you seem to misunderstand what I do. Though I have a PhD in genetics, I have not actually worked in a genetics lab for the last nine years and I’m semi-retired now. But I have for many years collected, and I continue to collect, information about mammalian and avian hybrid crosses. I compile all the information I find in a (hopefully) digestible form and make it available to the public. For example, my book on bird hybrids published by Oxford Univ. Press, or my ongoing work publishing information about mammalian hybrids. I’ve been looking at reports of hybridization for more than thirty years now, and by now probably I’ve read more than 20,000 reports. And I’ve documented somewhere around 7,000 different types of crosses involving either mammals or birds. Of course, some of those crosses are better documented than others. But whether I consider a given cross to be definitely verified or something closer to hoax or myth, my policy is to include all relevant information for that cross in order to allow readers to make informed decisions of their own. Given the fact that I’m gathering information on thousands of crosses on an ongoing basis, and given that I no longer work in a laboratory (let alone have one of my own!), it’s really not possible for me to carry out the sort of experiments you’re suggesting in the case of the cat-rabbit cross (though I would be extremely interested in seeing the results of such a study). I can only suggest that anyone who’s interested in exploring the subject further go to the page that I’ve created on that topic. I will say, that I do think the animals shown in the videos on that page are not like any cats I have ever seen. For instance, I have never seen cats that like carrots. Nor have I seen cats that hop around like rabbits as they do in those videos, nor ones that appear to have hind legs like those of a rabbit. As for the human thing, I’ve discussed the genetics of that cross at length elsewhere, so I won’t comment so here. But if you’ll take the time to read that discussion, I think you’ll see that it’s not at all so simple an issue as you suggest.

    49. #49 Syd Walker (@SydWalker)
      Far North Queensland, Australia
      June 18, 2015

      @Marco

      “For the pig-ape hybrid, he’d have to show inter-family hybridization is possible, and that it was so extremely common that the very likely extremely low fertility was overcome.”

      Here are a couple of quite recent references re documented cases of hybridization in plants across a somewhat comparable taxonomic divide:

      http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=4479332

      http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/679662

      Incidentally, as silly jokes are evidently standard fare in this “science” blog, I wonder if Mr Greg Laden (any relation to Bin?) knows that a shallow skeptic crossed with a yapping jackal typically results in a sterile dogmatist.

    50. #50 Brainstorms
      June 18, 2015

      Syd’s right. *Everything* since #31 is silly jokes, and he’s been having a good time joining in himself. (However, the ‘bin’ joke went sterile a long, long time ago, Syd.)

    51. #51 Roman Werpachowski
      June 18, 2015

      #30

      “No question about it, then — Not only would you not throw the trolley switch, you wouldn’t even think of touching it !”

      Animal experiments is not a “trolley switch” situation. It’s certan pain vs the possibility of a cure. You are comitting a fallacy by claiming that torturing animals in a lab is directly saving anyone. It isn’t. The only direct result is that someone publishes a paper.

      ““We cannot torture other beings for our profit.” But apparently we can (by taking no action) torture humans”

      This is not “torture”.

      ” — is that because they’re our own species?”

      In a way, it would be much better if the dominan species on Earth, which has already inflicted a lot of pain and misery on other species, learned to solve its problems without torturing other animals.

      “I’m really interested in the answer to that second one… ‘Cause you seem VERY sure that your position is air-tight morally certain.”

      You most certainly can find causes to claim that it isn’t, but I am not concerned by it that much.

    52. #52 Gene McCarthy (@macroevo)
      United States
      June 18, 2015

      Syd (comment #49) There are many distant crosses reported for mammals and birds as well, a lot more than people unfamiliar with hybridization have any idea of. But as the crosses become more distant, the fertilization rates go down. For instance, the cross between chicken and turkey is very well documented, but it takes about a thousand inseminations to produce a single mature hybrid. I don’t think anyone would say that chickens and turkeys are not very different animals. They have been variously classified as belonging either to separate families or separate orders. So I think the evidence on hybridization taken as a whole suggests there is some sort of unrecognized rescue mechanism that allows a small percentage of hybrids from some of these distant crosses to develop and mature. The result is the production of occasional, very rare hybrids that are very weird indeed.

    53. #53 Gene McCarthy
      June 18, 2015

      Syd (comment #49): There are many distant crosses reported for mammals and birds as well, a lot more than people unfamiliar with hybridization have any idea of. But as the crosses become more distant, the fertilization rates go down. For instance, the cross between chicken and turkey is very well documented, but it takes about a thousand inseminations to produce a single mature hybrid. I don’t think anyone would say that chickens and turkeys are not very different animals. They have been variously classified as belonging either to separate families or separate orders. So I think the evidence on hybridization taken as a whole suggests there is some sort of unrecognized rescue mechanism that allows a small percentage of hybrids from some of these distant crosses to develop and mature. The result is the production of occasional, very rare hybrids that are very weird indeed.

    54. #54 Marco
      June 18, 2015

      Gene, you do not even need your own laboratory. Just find yourself a cabbit and ask one of your oh-so believing colleagues to do the analysis!

      What I find most telling is that you claim you provide information so your readers can make an informed decision…but then do not tell them that the manx deformity leading to a rabbit-like hopping gait is documented in the scientific literature. Maybe it is because you have not been looking for it, preferring to focus on popular media reports. Just as with your “I have never seen cats that like carrots”. And yet, the evidence for that isn’t hard to find:
      https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=cat+eats+carrot
      (and some cats in those videos don’t just eat carrots, but all kind of vegetables). There are even people who deliberately make their cats vegetarians – in order to fit in with their own ideology.

      It also strongly appears to me that you leave out relevant information to your readers when you do not point out that mutations can lead to severe deformities, which make an individual appear to have characteristics that are more common in another species.

      I also note that your list of supposed human traits that are supposedly unique among the primates contain several that are at best contentious, if not outright wrong. For example, gorillas are primarily terrestrial, just like baboons. Talking about baboons, several species like water, some swim more out of necessity and do not fear the water itself, but rather the other things in there (oh hello, mr. crocodile). The female orgasm is another very contentious issue, as laboratory experiments show that a lot of other species (and not just primates) can have the same physiological reactions as what we call “orgasm” in humans. There are also plenty of nocturnal primates (as in really nocturnal). Recently, a paper described noctural ‘raids’ by chimpanzees – likely a result of adaptation to human encroachment. I also don’t see how the menstrual cycle of humans is supposed to be so different from those of e.g. orangutans (29 days) or gorillas (30 days). In Guinea, chimps have been seen taken alcoholic juice from a tree, consuming amounts that would cause behavioral changes in humans. It isn’t all too hard to make chimps alcoholic in captivity either (but please don’t!). Artherosclerosis is another thing that can be found in plenty of primates – given the ‘right’ (=wrong) diet. Baboons (there they are again) are know to develop it in the wild also.

      Your research is seriously lacking if I, someone who merely had biology as a minor, can so easily pick out the problems.

    55. #55 Gene McCarthy
      June 18, 2015

      Marco (comment #54), as the classical skeptic Sextus Empircus, said long ago: Some people believe they have found the truth, others believe the truth cannot be found, but the skeptics go on searching. I’m in the last category. In fact, I try never to believe anything that I can help believing. Thus, of course, I don’t believe in cabbits. And of course, I don’t disbelieve in them either. On that topic it’s easy to reserve judgment. You, however, seem to not to believe in them, which suggests you are in the first category. To me, it’s really not important whether cabbits are hybrids, on the one hand, or non-hybrid mutations, as you seem to believe, on the other. But I haven’t seen any studies that demonstrate that they in fact are mere mutations (citation please). People don’t seem to study cabbits. They only seem to argue about them. I realize that my research and my theories are, as you put it, “seriously lacking.” But that’s why I continue to work on them. The main reason that I create theories and consider hypotheses, however imperfect, is that I follow the teachings of Empiricus, who recommended that skeptics should put ideas in opposition to each other in order to achieve a suspension of judgment. And, as Fitzgerald, another of my favorite writers, put it, “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.”

    56. #56 Marco
      June 19, 2015

      Gene, I am in the category of scientists that doesn’t mind a bit of hypothesizing (which one then does *not* call a theory, as you however do), but then demands those who come with the hypothesis also do the hard work to provide evidence. Note that evidence isn’t “look at these pictures!”, or “read these stories from people who believe they have a cabbit!”

      The responsible scientist will point out that there are a number of explanations for the hopping gate of the ‘cabbit’, which are much more likely than the formation of a hybrid, and that anyone who believes it *is* a hybrid should just do a genetic study. It really is not hard. If you really want to “continue to work on them”, you should work on *falsification* of your hypothesis. So far I only see you try and find things that you believe *fit* your hypothesis.

    57. #57 GregH
      June 19, 2015

      Syd Walker: Here are a couple of quite recent references re documented cases of hybridization in plants across a somewhat comparable taxonomic divide:

      Syd, that’s all well and good, but has nothing to do with hybridization in mammals. Mechanisms of chromosome rearrangement (never mind numbers of chromosomes) and hybridization in plants are very different from mammals. In fact, the meaning of “taxonomic divide” in plants is quite different from an analogous divide in mammals. My point is that if you are unaware of these differences, you might want to have another look at PZ Myers’ article, where he addresses some of the specific problems with human-chimp hybrids, a much closer cross than chimp-pig or anything related to plants:

      Human and chimpanzee chromosomes are even more similar to one another, and there are no obvious chromosomal barriers to interfertility between one another. If hybridization in mammals were so easy that a pig and a chimp could do it, human-chimp hybrids ought to be trivial. Despite rumors of some experiments that attempted to test that, though, there have been no human-chimp hybrids observed, and I think they are highly unlikely to be possible. In this case, it’s a developmental problem.

      i wondered if you had an intelligent critique of the theory to offer readers.

      Why would I? Dr. Myers has already offered a sturdy biology-based critique, together with some entertaining comments. I defer to his expertise in both those areas. 😉

    58. #58 Gene McCarthy (@macroevo)
      June 20, 2015

      Marco (comment #56).

      Since my goal is, as I have mentioned (comment #55), to withhold judgment and continue searching for the truth about hybridization, I try to refrain from making any statements about my beliefs or what I think is likely. Instead, I make every effort to limit myself to facts. Since I’m collecting information about so many different kinds of crosses, I cannot go out and verify that every claim in every such report is correct. Therefore, for the most part, the only sort of fact that I have, is the fact that a report exists. In my accounts of mammalian and avian crosses, then, I simply repeat what is said by others and I try to do that as accurately as I can. I also try to limit myself to serious sources, that is, claims made in reputable newspapers and non-fiction magazines, scholarly books and journals, or personal communications from experts such as zookeepers or ornithologists. Of course, in compiling thousands of such reports under the headings of thousands of different types of crosses, I will not be able to avoid including a certain percentage of erroneous reports. But you can at least have my assurance that I make every effort to communicate accurately any claims that I do encounter. I also cite sources so that the reader can better judge the value of any given report.

      In the specific case of the widely reported cross cat x rabbit, I have taken this same approach. You say, “that anyone who believes it *is* a hybrid should just do a genetic study.” Well, as I’ve said, my goal is not belief, but rather a state of suspension of judgment. So if I have made any statement anywhere to the effect that I believe the animals shown on that page (http://www.macroevolution.net/cat-rabbit-hybrids.html) are hybrids, please let me know so that I can expunge it. If I’m not mistaken, all I’ve suggested is that that possibility be further investigated.

      You say, “The responsible scientist will point out that there are a number of explanations for the hopping gate of the ‘cabbit’, which are much more likely than the formation of a hybrid.” Really, there is only one other explanation that I know of, that is, that such animals are the result of mutation(s) not involving hybridization. I do say, at the top of the article, and again at its conclusion, that many people think this. And I emphasize that there is a longstanding controversy over this subject (the earliest report I have seen of such a hybrid was in the 1660s by one of the founders of the Royal Society). But I do not, I hope, express any judgment about which of these two explanations is more likely.

      As to evidence, it comes in many different forms. And whether it’s a video on Youtube, a nucleotide sequence analysis, a report from a zoo, or any other sort of observation or fact that a rational person would find useful in making a decision about the veracity of a given cross, I include it under the heading of that cross.

      Finally, with regard to your comment about hypothesizing vs. theorizing, if you’re talking about the cat-rabbit hybrids page, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. So far as I know, I hypothesize nothing, nor do I theorize anything, about such hybrids.

    59. #59 dean
      June 20, 2015

      Since I’m collecting information about so many different kinds of crosses, I cannot go out and verify that every claim in every such report is correct. Therefore, for the most part, the only sort of fact that I have, is the fact that a report exists.

      That sounds amazingly like how the anti-vacc folks use “stories” about vaccines causing autism. “I heard someone say it happened, so…”

      What a joke.

    60. #60 Marco
      June 20, 2015

      A scientist should not suspend his judgment when it is so clear that very obvious and glaring evidence is missing. The cabbit story is the clearest example, where any responsible scientist would say “There are anecdotes, but no one has ever been able (or willing?) to provide any genetic proof that this is a true hybrid, even though this is simple to do. Therefore, this hybrid should be considered unsubstantiated.”
      Instead, you claim to leave the judgment to the reader, deliberately keeping out information to the reader that would put major doubt on the claims of the anecdotal reports.

      A similar approach should be applied to your *hypothesis* (not a theory, as you call it) of humans being a hybrid between a primate and a pig. *You* should be able to provide the observations that would falsify your hypothesis. instead, as I noted before, you solely look for observations that you believe support your claim. Note for the example the many behavior traits you claim are unique to humans as compared to primates. I showed several were at best contentious if not outright wrong. Your response? Total and utter silence. Let’s ignore the contradictory evidence, shall we? It bursts the bubble.

      Dean is right about your behavior. Stories and your impressions and then claiming to “suspend judgment” even though you use those examples as a support for your even wilder hybridisation claims with regards to humans.

    61. #61 Gene McCarthy (@macroevo)
      United States
      June 20, 2015

      Marco (comment #60)

      If I find any false statement anywhere on the website, I always correct it. People often send me messages about errors, and if I agree there’s a mistake, I try to find time to correct it. But I’m not going to change anything just because you disagree. I’d only do that if I checked up on you and found that you were right. After all, I don’t even know you. In fact, I don’t know your name. Moreover, in my opinion, the issues you raised, even if you did turn out to be right, would not, in the larger picture of things, be particularly significant.

      To tell the truth, I really don’t have time to engage in debate with every stranger who sends me a comment. I have literally hundreds of people contacting me, especially about the pig-chimp theory, and making comments either by email, twitter, or in various other places on the internet. So please don’t complain about my being silent. I’ve just had a few thoughts and decided to leave some comments. I’m always falling behind with my email because I don’t have time to respond even to everyone who’s polite, let alone to those, like you, who insult me. I just happened to have a little time today because it’s Saturday. I can’t go on and on debating. It’s not constructive and I’ve got a lot of other things to do.

      But before I go away, I will say that your allegation of significant omissions on my part seems unreasonable. Any report, about anything whatsoever, omits information. I know that I’ve tried to be as honest and complete as I can. So my conscience is clear. But even Aristotle didn’t get around to everything. Somehow you seem to be seeing a diabolical and pervasive bias on my part. But I assure you that, in whatever I write or do, I’ve make every effort to be honest, accurate and open minded. Of course, if you don’t like my ideas or the things I say, that’s okay. Plenty of people do. Please just ignore me. I never expected, or even wanted, to please everyone.

    62. #62 Greg Laden
      June 20, 2015

      Humans are not pig chimp hybrids.

    63. #63 Gene McCarthy (@macroevo)
      June 20, 2015

      #62: Perhaps not, Greg. But there is certainly a mountain of evidence consistent with the conclusion that they are. And here’s where you’ll find it: http://www.macroevolution.net/human-origins.html

    64. #64 Greg Laden
      June 20, 2015

      No, there is not.

    65. #65 Syd Walker
      Australia
      June 20, 2015

      “Humans are not pig chimp hybrids.”

      “Perhaps not, but.. there is.. evidence consistent with the conclusion that they are. And here’s where you’ll find it”

      “No, there is not.”
      _______________

      This exchange is somewhere between amusing and sad.

      The noble tradition of “skepticism”.. usurped by a dogmatist so dogmatic he can be regarded as a parody of dogmatism.

    66. #66 Greg Laden
      June 20, 2015

      Syd, what are youvtryingvyo say?

    67. #67 Gene McCarthy (@macroevo)
      June 20, 2015

      Syd, though I make suspension of judgment my goal, I do have trouble avoiding belief in certain things. For example, in the case of your comment (#65), I’ve tried, but I just can’t seem to help believing that I do get your point. 🙂

    68. #68 Marco
      June 21, 2015

      “The noble tradition of “skepticism”.. usurped by a dogmatist so dogmatic he can be regarded as a parody of dogmatism.”

      Correct, Gene McCarthy is indeed a dogmatist: he will suspend judgment and promote his own hypothesis (again, not a theory), no matter how many times people point out glaring errors in his argumentation and supposed evidence. The skepticism is glaringly missing.

      And Gene, if you cannot handle some strongly worded criticism, you should stay out of science.

    69. #69 Gene McCarthy (@macroevo)
      June 22, 2015

      Syd, your mention of dogmatism (comment #65) brings Andreas Vesalius to mind, another person I try to emulate. What I’ve always liked about Vesalius is the way he used observation to trump dogma. At a time when no scholar of human anatomy actually dissected human bodies, and when everyone dogmatically adhered to what Galen had said on that subject more than a thousand years before, Vesalius suddenly came along and said, “Hey, why don’t we look at some actual human bodies and see if Galen was right?” In doing so, and in publishing his illustrations of what he found, he may have offended colleagues who thought of Galen’s claims as sacrosanct fact, but he also managed to cut through the dogma and correct innumerable errors.

      I’m consciously trying to do the same with hybrids. That is, instead of simply repeating the various dogmas about hybridization (which also have been handed down unchanged for more than a thousand years)–e.g., “Hybrids are sterile”; “Hybrids don’t happen in a natural setting”; “Hybrids only occur between closely related animals”; “Human hybrids are unknown”–I instead say, “Hey, why don’t we look at what’s actually reported about hybrids and see if all these long-standing claims are correct?” So I’ve collected all the observational data that I can find about each different type of mammalian cross, and published it here (http://www.macroevolution.net/mammalian-hybrids.html). And I continue to collect and publish such information. In doing so, I hope to destabilize the beliefs of at least a few of the many people who consider themselves modern-minded and yet who parrot ideas about hybrids that seem to have gone largely unexamined since Roman times.

    70. #70 Tom Pliska
      Long Beach, CA
      June 22, 2015

      On the question of why pork is prohibited by the Jewish religion, my understanding is that it relates to the existence of a previous religion in the Middle East or North Africa for which the eating of pork was a religious act restricted to a few holy days. Thus eating pork became worship of a foreign god. Unfortunately, I can’t find any citations for this other than the very tactful comments about swine worship in Herodotus.

    71. #71 Mrs Woo
      June 25, 2015

      Off the topic of hybrids but on the topic of better understanding animals, animal rights and veganism: I accidentally acquired or created a house chicken during my early days of backyard chicken keeping. To this day, I am not sure if she imprinted on me (unlikely, she was acquired at around ten days old), was smart enough to see “food comes from here,” or if it was just happenstance. I do know that in the years I had her, she quickly demonstrated that she was as smart as a dog, would attempt to communicate (and usually succeed) and was aware of other creatures in her environment. Not a scientist or anything obviously here, just an animal lover.

      Anyhow, as I realized how entertaining a pet she really was, I began to suspect that reasons we don’t have let chickens include their inability to talk (like parrots, ravens and some other birds) and how common they are. We also, for comfort, prefer to believe an animal we eat is “stupid,” because it makes us feel a little less uncomfortable eating something if it really wasn’t very aware in the first place.

      I have realized ethically that I should only eat what I am willing to raise and kill myself, but I am not there yet, and still buy meat from butchers, farmers and grocery store.

      Sharing this because it parallels pigs (don’t like the smell of them and am unlikely to ever have one) and even is pertinent to the animal experimentation question. I know we need to do some trials on animals. I know I still eat chicken. As hard as it is, until we find better options, I don’t see other choices. Well, I guess I could be a vegan… maybe I am lazy.

    72. #72 Greg Hunter
      United States
      July 10, 2015

      I suspect the prohibition against eating pigs is a result of a group that was under pressure at some point in the past, resorted to cannibalism and realized Pigs taste like People. The group then issued the prohibition against eating pigs as a penance for eating their own.

    73. #73 Brainstorms
      July 10, 2015

      No, people taste like chicken. Don’t they?? I mean, like, don’t everything taste like chicken???

      Seriously, we can scientifically rule out your argument, Greg, because Pigs have not issued prohibitions against eating People, ergo, they cannot taste the same. Or Pigs have divine knowledge that Pigs Really Are Not Like People. Or Pigs Really Don’t Like People. Or People Really Don’t Like Pigs. Or it might have something to do with people liking to make stuff up to explain things that they don’t understand. I don’t think pigs do that… Maybe they’re smarter than people.

    74. #74 Greg Laden
      July 10, 2015

      People taste roughly like monkeys. I’m told. I’ve had monkey. I would imagine that they would taste more like chimps, but I’ve never had chimps. So, if I eat a person I’m only going to be able to make the comparison with monkeys. Different species of old world monkey do taste a lot like each other, but preparation method may matter a lot.

    75. #75 Brainstorms
      July 10, 2015

      I knew this English guy who had a thing for Fish & Chimps…

    76. #76 Chris Mannering
      July 10, 2015

      Both pieces of work, the blogger and the 2 colleagues he mentions, deserve credit for scientific intrepidness and the element of distinctiveness their research and envisionings. But really, it is inconceivable that the blogger nor his colleagues did not come across the pioneering contributions of the geneticist McCarthy. Why do you fail to mention him? That is not right.

    77. #77 Chris Mannering
      July 10, 2015

      Humans taste like pork and human skin burns to crackling….> this is know because the Bolsheviks murdered millions of peasants in the most cruel of ways: Hiving them in and watching them starve to death. Where there is starvation there is cannibalism.
      But prohibitions on eating pig has nothing to do with insight of pig theory. Had the motivation been that, prohibitions on eating monkey and ape would have followed in short order behind. But they love monkey brains

    78. #78 Marco
      July 11, 2015

      Chris Mannering, if you browse the comments, you will see why it is not an oversight McCarthy is not mentioned.

    79. […] considers commonalities humans share with one of our preferred sources of animal protein—pigs. A new review of past swine research emphasizes that pigs have excellent long-term memories, comprehend simple symbols, demonstrate […]

    80. #80 Chris Mannering
      July 16, 2015

      “Chris Mannering, if you browse the comments, you will see why it is not an oversight McCarthy is not mentioned.”

      Does the author/s contribute in the comments? Or are saying the author is you?

      Else you are assuming you argumentation, which FWIW is frankly dismal.

      All you do is throw debating misdirection devices at the fellow, any use of which I’d you know is regarded scurrilous and lowly; dishonesty. Going on and on about a peripheral passage of no consequence at all in the authentic substance.is a smear plain and simple: Claims that amount to a charge that an extensively researched theory inclusive of a significant body of SUPPORTING evidence is somehow defective for it; a failure of fairness and balance. Are you off your nut? A scientific theory is not spoon-fed. The sufficiently competent and relevant scientific readership wants to consider the case; already knows or knows how to assemble any wider material with direct necessity in that immediate assessment. That’s why it’s CALLED supporting evidence. So concluding, I took your advice and read some of the comments and having done that I am as near certain as can be, you and the cackling others do not speak for the authors on any account: this independent of what they may think of McCarthy. From hating his guts birthing his baby, even if they killed him and buried his argument in an unmarked pigsty, they’d never knowingly associate themselves with your dismal character assassinating savagery. I see a pig.