Science and Technology Studies Public Talk
Sex: Chimpanzees, Bonobos and the Humans Who Study Them by Dr. Don Robinson

Most of what has been written by primatologists about apes and humans has been based on the study of the chimpanzee. However, in recent years, questions have arose as scholarship on bonobos has unearthed new findings.

In “Sex: Chimpanzees, Bonobos and the Humans who Study Them,” Science and Technology Studies professor Dr. Don Robinson will look at primatologists’ views on the sexual patterns of bonobos. The public talk will take place on Thursday, March 12 at 11:30 am in McCain Hall 101.

Once thought to be a kind of chimpanzee, the bonobo is a distinct species that differs in many ways from the chimpanzee. They are less prone to violence than most chimpanzees and unlike chimpanzees, they live in matriarchal communities. Interestingly enough, bonobos practice sex as a means of conflict resolution. Primatologists have studied the intense frequency and the variety and combination of partners that makes bonobos’ sexual practices unique.

Robinson believes that these studies have broader significance. The startling differences between chimpanzees and bonobos have forced the field of primatology to rethink a history of dialogue connecting apes and humans. Are humans more like chimpanzees or more like bonobos? This is perhaps the central issue in primatology today. Dr. Robinson will be offering a critical assessment of Primatology and what primatologists have had to say about understanding humans based on what we have learned about chimpanzees and bonobos. He will argue that personal opinion of scientists and a reliance on stereotypes influence the science that is being done in this field.

Dr. Don Robinson is director of the Science and Technology Studies programme. His research interests include the history and philosophy of physics, genetic explanations for human behavior, animal experimentation, the relation between science and religion, and the political aspects of science. Most of his publications have been about quantum theories and their interpretation. He recently began making documentary films and his current project is a documentary about the political situations in Nepal and Tibet and how they are connected to the history of mountaineering in the Mount Everest region.