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The Primate Diaries

The Primate Diaries


Notes on science, politics, and history from a primate in the human zoo.
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Reflections in the Monkey House

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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After a year of collaborative work it is time to reflect and give thanks. Won’t you join us?

"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape" by Nathaniel Gold

"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape" by Nathaniel Gold

Today marks the one year anniversary of The Primate Diaries in its latest incarnation here at the Scientific American blog network as well as my collaboration with the artist, and fellow primate, Nathaniel Gold. Anniversaries are important for our species. Nearly all human societies have annual celebrations in order to reflect and commemorate the events of the past year and augur in good tidings for the year to come. The reasons for this are obscure, but I suppose it has something to do with trying to create order out of the general chaos of our existence. In the United States, of course, it’s so greeting card companies stay in business.

In the spirit of commemoration we’d both like to thank the editors of Scientific American–especially Bora who is instrumental in keeping this ship sailing smoothly–for allowing us this opportunity, the wonderfully talented and supportive bloggers on the network whose work regularly inspires, as well as all of you, the readers, whose feedback makes our work here so rewarding (but more on you in a minute).

First and foremost I’d like to thank Nathaniel and say what a great joy it has been working with him this past year. His incredible artwork has adorned every post I’ve written, including original portraits of those I’ve interviewed such as primatologists Frans de Waal and Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Nathaniel creates with paint and ink the same vision that I try to evoke with 36 alphanumeric symbols and a smattering of punctuation marks. His work is remarkable and has resulted in two of his images, “Mental Health” and “Attachment,” being selected as the network’s Image of the Week and our collaboration has been highlighted as a model for the future of science communication. It’s been a great ride.

But now it’s your turn. Following in the spirit of Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science we’d like to know about the primates here with us, regardless if you’ve followed every post or if this is your first time. Please introduce yourself in the comments. Also, don’t be frightened off by the registration. You don’t have to use your real name and you won’t have to wait for login information to be e-mailed to you. Just sign up and then come back here to sign in.

1) Who are you? Do you have a background in science? If so, what draws you here as opposed to meatier, more academic fare? And if not, what brought you here and why have you stayed? Let loose with those comments.

2) Tell someone else about this blog and in particular, try and choose someone who’s not a scientist but who you think might be interested in the type of stuff found in this blog. Ever had family members or groups of friends who’ve been giving you strange, pitying looks when you try to wax scientific on them? Send ‘em here and let’s see what they say.

3) How did you find us? I’m interested in whether you found us, or regularly follow us, through Twitter, Facebook and/or other beyond-RSS mechanisms that you may use to corral your information stream.

4) What is it that you like about The Primate Diaries? Nathaniel and I do this primarily because it’s a labor of love and we’d enjoy hearing what you appreciate about the work we’ve done this past year. Are there any posts or images that you remember well? Have any conversations resulted off-line from work you’ve seen here? What is it that brings you back?

As for reflections about my own work this past year, there’s not much I could add beyond what Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his book Welcome to the Monkey House:

“I have been a writer since 1949. I am self-taught. I have no theories about writing that might help others. When I write, I simply become what I seemingly must become. I am six feet two and weigh nearly two hundred pounds and am badly coordinated, except when I swim. All that borrowed meat does the writing.
In the water I am beautiful.”

I’ve only been a writer since about 2002 and am two inches shorter than he was. But everything else is about right.

Eric Michael Johnson About the Author: Eric Michael Johnson has a Master's degree in Evolutionary Anthropology focusing on great ape behavioral ecology. He is currently a doctoral student in the history of science at University of British Columbia looking at the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics.

Follow his work on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @primatediaries.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. Nathaniel Gold 9:31 am 07/5/2012

    Let me be the first to post a comment and let me say that this ride for me has been extremely rewarding. Eric, you are a phenomenal talent and I want to thank you for your generosity and for bringing me into this thing with you. It takes a brilliant mind to take a portrait I had done of the pope as a chimp and connect it to penis spines, but I am so happy you did. Before I met you I never considered myself a Scientific Illustrator and I still don’t. I don’t feel that I am a political cartoonist either but I feel that what I do is more closely tied to that then to Scientific Illustration. You have opened my eyes to a whole new world and you have accepted me into it graciously. For that, and for all the inspiration, I thank you. I have been painting non-human primates for a long time but it has always been self-indulgent. You have given my work purpose.

    I also would like to thank any of the readers here that have commented on my work, sent me emails or purchased an original. That feedback is extremely precious to me. If you don’t already you can follow me on twitter @ngoldart for a back stage look at the making of the art for The Primate Diaries and for a new Chimp Sketch every week.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Patrick Clarkin 9:43 am 07/5/2012

    Eric and Nathaniel, “The Primate Diaries” is one of my favorite blogs. My background is in biological anthropology, and I truly enjoy the combination of strong writing and fun, quirky artwork. And I definitely learn a lot along the way. Thanks.

    Link to this
  3. 3. bjkingape 10:00 am 07/5/2012

    Eric & Nathaniel: Congrats and well done! As a biological anthropologist, primatologist, and science blogger, I read your work for its evolutionary insights and professional presentation. Frequently, I’m (still)in the position of pointing out that science blogging IS science journalism & I keep a short list of excellent examples to use for this purpose, including The Primate Diaries. Happy start of year #2 at SciAm!

    Link to this
  4. 4. Glendon Mellow 3:38 pm 07/5/2012

    Hey! Glendon Mellow, fellow SciAm Blogger introducing myself. I will certainly keep telling people about you. And I can’t even remember the first time I read your blog.

    Eric, I like that your posts usually have me walking around for the rest of the day thinking about something I hadn’t known or thought about before. Nathaniel, I like your artwork because every one is a treat both in execution and subject matter.

    Thanks, and happy blogiversary!

    Link to this
  5. 5. michellespidermonkey 4:40 pm 07/6/2012

    Hello! I think the last time I commented on your blog was probably a couple of years ago. Anyway, I am a primatologist frantically trying to write my dissertation. My reading of your blogs has been rather sporadic (I think back before I left for my dissertation fieldwork I read it pretty regularly, but since returning my blog reading tends to be more sporadic). I enjoy reading your posts, and reading your blog was probably one of my major inspirations for starting my own blog–and your posts are still the inspiration for what I like to do with my own blog (if only I could find the time for writing more! I’m currently trying to focus my writing efforts on the dissertation right now).

    Anyway, my favorite post was the interview with Sarah Hrdy–she is one of my biggest heroes and I love her work! I also really enjoyed the piece about extended breastfeeding in response to the time article. That is one I shared on facebook, and had quite an interesting discussion about.

    I have been trying to follow your blog through my blogger feed, but it won’t let me add your blog, or Context and Variation. Weirdly enough though, the blogger feed had no problem with Anthropology in Practice… I’m not sure what’s going on there. It’s rather frustrating!

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  6. 6. EricMJohnson 2:44 am 07/16/2012

    @michellespidermonkey: If you click on the orange RSS button next to the name of the blog it should work fine. It did for me anyway.

    Link to this

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