Jane Goodall apparently guilty of plagiarism and sloppy science writing

Jane Goodall’s observations of the chimps at Gombe is perhaps the most famous work in primatology in the 20th century, and she’s rightly famous for her meticulous observations, her absolute dedication to her fieldwork, her discovery of many traits in our closest relatives that were thought unique to humans, and her tireless work on biological conservation (now 78, she still travels 300 days a year raising money and consciousness). My admiration was only slightly tempered when I found out recently that she was a goddie, and has spoken many times about her faith and the lack of conflict between science and religion.

But nobody, no matter how loved or revered, is immune from criticism; and in the case of Goodall, an iconic figure in primatology, the criticism has become particularly serious. She’s now accused of not only plagiarizing from other sources in her new book, Seeds of Hope (a book about the importance of plants, co-authored with Gail Hudson), but also of conveying inaccurate information about GMO food—serious accusations for a professional scientist.

The accusations were first leveled in an article by Steven Levingston in the March 19 “Book” section of The Washington Post, after a prospective reviewer (a botanist) noticed the problems and declined to review the book.  Levingston highlights the following instances of plagiarism (i.e., unattributed copying):

  • In the book, Goodall extols the benefits of sustainable farming. She expresses her shock at learning of dangerous conditions for workers who harvest tea.“According to Oxfam,” she writes, “a British nonprofit agency working to put an end to poverty worldwide, the spraying of pesticides on tea estates is often done by untrained casual daily-wage workers, sometimes even by children and adolescents.”That paragraph appears word for word on the Web site of Choice Organic Teas, a company dedicated to ethical labor practices. Choice Organic Teas was selected in 2010 to carry the Jane Goodall “Good for All” brand on a new line of products, and it donates a slice of its profits to the Jane Goodall Institute.
  • Goodall explains the toxic dangers in some detail, writing: “Most of these chemicals — such as Aldrin 20E, Carbofuran 30, Endosulfan 35 EC, Malathion 50 EC, Tetradifon 8 EC, Calixin 80 EC — are listed as hazardous and toxic, and a number of them are banned in Western countries. Despite dangers of exposure to these poisons, the workers are frequently barefoot and in shorts rather than protected by recommended aprons.”
    This material is replicated nearly verbatim from the same Web site page. Both passages also appear in nearly identical language on other organic tea Web sites and in the 2008 bookBig Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World” by Diane MacEachern. The language can be traced to a 2002 draft report, “The Tea Market — A Background Study,” which lacks an authorship credit.

The following is especially bizarre. Wikipedia? Really?

  • “Seeds of Hope” contains language from Wikipedia in its discussion of 18th-century Philadelphia botanist John Bartram, who shipped boxes of seeds to Europeans. Goodall writes: “ ‘Bartram’s Boxes,’ as they came to be known, were regularly sent to Peter Collinson for distribution to a wide list of European clients.”The Wikipedia entry reads: “Bartram’s Boxes as they then became known, were regularly sent to Peter Collinson every fall for distribution in England to a wide list of clients.”
  • Goodall marvels at the majesty of trees. “In ancient Egypt,” she notes, “the sycamore was especially revered — twin sycamores were believed to stand at the eastern gate of heaven through which Ra, the sun god[,] came each day.”

    Nearly identical words are found on a Web site called “Find Your Fate,” which covers astrology, numerology, palm reading and matters relating to love and life.

  • The phrasing Goodall uses to describe the tobacco habits of Indians in South and Central America is very similar to what is found on a Web site of tobacco history. The boldfaced words in this passage from the book echo language on the Web site: “In South and Central America the Indians smoked tobacco in pipes of many shapes and sizes, often elaborately decorated. It was sometimes chewed or used as snuff to ‘clear the head.’ Tobacco was also used as a remedy for such varied conditions as asthma, bites and stings, urinary and bowel complaints, fevers, convulsions, nervous ailments, sore eyes, and skin diseases. Some tribes cultivate tobacco as an insecticide to protect themselves against parasites.”

There’s also the possibility that Goodall, like Jonah Lehrer, made up quotations. As the Post reports:

“Seeds of Hope” tells the tale of botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London germinating 200-year-old seeds preserved in the Millennium Seed Bank. The seeds were shipped from Cape Town, were seized by the British and spent time in the Tower of London before winding up at the bank. Goodall concludes the story with a comment she says botanist Matt Daws made to her: “If seeds can survive that long in such poor conditions, then that’s good news for the ones that are stored under ideal conditions in the Millennium Seed Bank,’ Matt Daws said to me.”

Virtually the same quote from Daws appears on the Gardens Web site in a 2009 article with the headline “Plant story — 200 year old seeds spring to life”: “If seed can survive that long in poor conditions, then that’s good news for those in the Millennium Seed Bank stored under ideal conditions.” Asked in an e-mail whether he ever had a conversation with Goodall, Daws replied: “To be perfectly honest I have no recollection of speaking to her.”

An analysis of Goodall’s book by Michael Moynihan in The Daily Beast suggests there are many other plagiarized passages not uncovered by the Post, as well as another partially fabricated quote:

  • In my quick look through Seeds of Hope, I found what appears to be a similar example of plagiarism. Dave Aplin, a British botanist, is quoted telling Goodall of his discovery of seeds belonging to a long-extinct plant: “‘During my research,’ he told me, ‘I discovered a handful of preserved seeds hidden deep in the vaults of our seed bank.’ He felt a sense of awe.’ It was clear that I was probably looking at the last few seeds of this species in existence,’ he said.”

    But here is Dave Aplin quoted in a 2005 article from BBC News: “It was clear that I was probably looking at the last few seeds of this species in existence, and so some of the seeds were also dispatched to Britain so that both institutes could try to germinate them.” An added sentence—possibly from an actual interview Goodall conducted with Aplin—followed by a pilfered (and truncated) one.

Remember that Jonah Lehrer was fired from The New Yorker and disgraced for similarly fabricating quotes.

  • A quick check of other passages, randomly selected, suggest that there are many more instances of plagiarism that went undiscovered by the Post. Describing a study of genetically modified corn, Goodall writes: “A Cornell University study showed adverse effects of transgenic pollen (from Bt corn) on monarch butterflies: their caterpillars reared on milkweed leaves dusted with Bt corn pollen ate less, grew more slowly, and suffered higher mortality.”

A report from Navdaya.org puts it this way: “A 1999 Nature study showed adverse effects of transgenic pollen (from Bt corn) on monarch butterflies: butterflies reared on milkweed leaves dusted with bt corn pollen ate less, grew more slowly, and suffered higher mortality.”

The list of “unintentional borrowings” goes on, but you get the idea. Also disturbing are the many errors that Moynihan found, including attributing Confessions of an English Opium Eater to Samuel Taylor Coleridge instead of Thomas de Quincey.

That’s a small one, but there are several others. More serious is Goodall’s apparent dislike of GMO crops—which appear to be perfectly safe—and her citing of several dubious studies that appear to show their dangers (she cites, for instance, a CDC study as apparently showing that GM corn causes allergic reactions, but the CDC itself concluded that there was no effect).

As Moynihan notes, perhaps some of these errors and scientific distortions can be attributed to Goodall’s co-author, but that hardly applies to quotes from interviews supposedly conducted by Goodall—quotes that either were not uttered (since Goodall may not have spoken to the person indicated) or were partially fabricated. At any rate, Goodall is the book’s first author, and is responsible for the contents.

How bad is all this? Given the combination of distorted presentation of scientific studies, fabricated quotes, and plagiarism—and yes, by any standards it’s plagiarism—it looks pretty bad. In fact, if the book had been by a less revered person I suspect it would have been withdrawn from publication, as were two of Jonah Lehrer’s books that contained fabricated quotes or other unattributed material. Seeds of Hope was scheduled for release on April 2, but this has apparently been postponed indefinitely while the publisher, Hachette, allows Goodall to “correct any unintentional errors.”

“Unintentional errors” is the same excuse I’ve gotten in the past from students who copied material, but those students were still disciplined for plagiarism.

This is all very sad, and the scandal will surely dog Goodall as she treks around the world giving talks. It’s almost surely sloppiness and not cheating, but if we can’t trust Jane Goodall to report things accurately, who can we trust?


  1. nickswearsky
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Perhaps this is a sign Jane should hang it up.

  2. Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Shit!! She is one of my favourite people. I didn’t realise that she was a goddite or thought that religion and science could be bedfellows.

    I could forgive that – well nearly – I wouldn’t forget it! But sloppiness in her writing and lifting pieces from elsewhere is not going to do her any favours. Did she think no one would notice??

    Just damn!!

    • Posted March 27, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Forgive me, but that really is surprising to me. I was just as shocked when I read that Jerry wasn’t aware, as I honestly thought it was common knowledge. Jane’s quite open about her faith. It’s not any kind of faith most Christians would recognize as legitimate, as Jane doesn’t actually identify with a specific religion, but she is quite spiritual… uniquely so, in fact, amongst anthropologists and primatologists.

      As far thinking science and religion can be bedfellows… she subscribes to Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA. So for her they aren’t bedfellows so much as separate tools used to understand different aspects of reality.

      It’s total bullshit, of course, but her work with chimps is such that I was always able to forgive her for it…

      But now… I sincerely hope this isn’t true. I sincerely hope that this is either a mistake by the reporters, or something done not by her or approved by her, but by her co-writer. Jane a plagiarist and liar?

      Being spiritual I can forgive. being so openly dishonest I cannot.

      Please don’t let it be true.

      • Posted March 27, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Having read a lot of comments about sloppiness,ghost writers and poor citations, I am probably happy to cut Goodall the slack.

        What I am not happy about is her attempt to marry science with some sort of ill-thought-out ‘spiritual’ position.

        What I have difficulty with is her apparent ability to equate religious faith with pretend atheistic reason.

        My mistake was not going through her biography and realising her basic life tenets for living. Mea culpa. I still like her and her presentations.

        • Posted March 27, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          See, for me, her faith isn’t a problem. Her work with chimpanzees is going to be insanely useful for my studies of fanaticism and re-defining it through an evolutionary (as opposed to cultural) framework. I’m happy to forgive her her faith, because she’s still a tireless advocate for teaching science in the science classroom, she hasn’t built her name on bashing atheists (indeed, she told me, the one time I met her, that atheists were some of her favorite people to work with, because our “hyper-reliance” on skepticism and scientific thinking was refreshing out in Uganda where Christian fanaticism is the norm even more than it is here in the States), and her work with chimpanzees really is the base upon which all of modern primatology, biological anthropology, and even cultural anthropology are built.

          I’m less willing to forgive the plagiarism and fake quotes, which is why I hope it’s more a case of her just not bothering to look at what she’s putting her name on, which is still bad, but is actually forgivable, unlike the dishonesty highlighted here.

          • Posted March 31, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

            Oh, indeed. She is tireless and everything is in the right place. I didn’t even know about her faith which shows that she doesn’t even make an issue of it.

            I think the sloppiness was more to do with carelessness and maybe involved the sloppiness of those helping her to get the book together. She doesn’t have that much time to write with all her other activities and travels.

            It is more my disappointment and that has to do with my not realising things about her but it is not terminal. 🙂

            • Posted March 31, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

              I’m starting to think you’re right about it being sloppy. Still bad, but I can forgive that. She made a mistake; hopefully she learns from it and moves on.

              I do actually like her defense of Wikipedia, too. I am so tired of people bashing Wikipedia, especially after the major changes it went through in response to Stephen Colbert’s fans (myself included, BTW :D) editing the articles about elephants and such.

              Wikipedia is an extremely useful starting point, now. I wouldn’t cite it for academic research, obviously, but, if nothing else, it’s a wonderful compendium of sources if Google just isn’t being as fruitful as you’d hope. If they tied down the peer-review on the site even more (say: edits and/or new pages don’t get published until they’ve been vetted for accuracy), I’ve no doubt it would become respectable even in academic sources. But even without that, it’s no longer true that anyone can put anything they want on there. With all the hyper-vigilant editors combing for accuracy, an inaccurate edit barely lasts a day on there anymore (I’ve literally seen the peer review happen in real time, and I’ve taken part in it myself).

              So I cheer Jane’s defense of Wikipedia, and I think it’s about damn time for academics and scientists join her in that.

  3. Alice Wonder
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Given her age, part of me wonders if she did very little if any writing, but rather, her name was used as a brand name, marketing so to speak.

    I happen to know that is the case with another well respected biologist who wrote many field guides. A recent field guide came out with his name as a co-author but he has been un-able to do any writing at all for years. And the quality of the new field guide is nowhere near the quality of what he actually did write.

    • Posted March 27, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I would hope that she’d be more discerning of what she puts her name to…

    • Diego
      Posted March 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      Alice, I had the same thought. I saw her speak a few years ago, and she seemed to be still quite sharp so I don’t know if age is an excuse. But with that insane travel schedule I don’t know how anyone of any age could possibly do much writing. Of course this doesn’t ameliorate the responsibility she takes on when she puts her name to a ghost-written product.

  4. gbjames
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    What a shame.

  5. Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    If I’m not mistraken, all of her plagiarism sins are such that, had she simply given them proper attribution with a footnote or “as so-and-so put it” or the like, it would have gone from dishonest to well-researched.

    Such a shame.

    There’s no reason not to give credit where credit is due. It makes you look good because it shows all the hard work you did in seeing what everybody else already had to say. And it makes those you quote happy because they’re now getting the respect they deserve and some good publicity. And it makes your readers happy because they can check your work and will very likely discover new insights for themselves in the process.

    Ah, well….


    • Kevin
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Yeah, that was my thought exactly.

      Poor citation/footnote work.

      And I’ll also blame the “co-writer”; because as a professional writer, I know how these things work. The Big Name does very very little of the actual typing.

  6. sigh
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    I was just reading about Edison and Graham Bell, two disgusting thieves. Also didn’t Einstein pretty much commit plagiarism? If scientist A writes a paper and scientist B slightly improves said paper, is that considered plagiarism too?

    • Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Einstein, really? Reference, please.

      Surely you’re not thinking of that old canard that his first wife actually developed Special Relativity?

      Einstein did essentially repeat some work done by Josiah Willard Gibbs, and later said that he wouldn’t have published had he known about Gibbs’s work. But there was no internet then, Einstein was in Europe, Gibbs was obscure and overseas in America, and English was not yet the main language of science.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      If he basically takes the words of the paper and presents them as his own work — yes. That’s plagiarism.

      Most, if not all, scientific journals run submitted papers through a plagiarism filter nowadays. If the paper is too close to another work, it goes right into the dust bin. Doesn’t even make it to peer review.

      If a scientist takes the METHODS used in a bit of scientific research and improves on those METHODS and results in better research — then she’s got something to crow about and doesn’t need to mimic the first paper.

      Also, in the writing of scientific papers, citations are everything. I’ve seen review articles with as many as 200 separate citations. Every statement is backed up with a “where did I get that” notation.

      I think in my writing of educational materials for physicians, I once topped out at 120 citations.

      If you’re presenting original research, the citation list will be far smaller, because you’re describing what you did.

      • Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        Was that a reply to the “Einstein plagiarism” allegation? If so, it doesn’t demonstrate any sort of plagiarism on the part of Einstein.

        • Kevin
          Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

          His comment was “If scientist A writes a paper and scientist B slightly improves said paper, is that considered plagiarism too”.

          Yes. It is.

          Of course, that statement bespeaks a gross misunderstanding of how science works, but we’re setting that aside for the moment. Let’s just say that we’re not talking about original research, but a review article.

          If you’re basing your review article on someone else’s work — also a review article — and you substantially repeat the form and wording of that article, you’re stealing. And your academic reputation is at stake.

          I’m a professional writer, currently creating educational materials for health care professionals. Every statement I write that is based on the works of others is cited as the works of others. In addition to that, I never merely copy a phrase or statement from a cited paper (except in rare cases when it makes no logical sense to do so or it is impossible do to so without changing the meaning or intent of the original).

          If you’re just doing copy/pasta of text from one paper or several papers into yours, and especially without citing those statements as someone else’s words– you’re engaging in plagiarism.

          • Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:00 am | Permalink

            Yes, we know that, but if you post a threaded response, please answer the question about Einstein. Otherwise, respond to another comment, or enter a fresh comment at the bottom.

    • Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      What is plagairism seems to differ by field. Consider the case of mathematics. Suppose you are writing a paper in which you need to use a theorem from another paper. The standard way of doing this is mathematics is to say: “This theorem is proved in such and such paper” and then to copy the theorem without quotes. I think by most college plagiarism guidelines, this would be considered plagiarism, since quotes are not used. However, in mathematics, the situation is that:

      0) As long as a proper citation to the theorem is provided, this is not considered plagiarism,

      1) If your version of the cited theorem is significantly different in language from the actual one, then you usually need to explain why that is the case, and to say why your version follows from the actual version, and 2

      2) Putting quotation marks around theorems would be considered pretty bad style.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        You cited the paper…that’s enough. No quotation marks needed. It’s an idiom for that particular type of paper.

        Of course, mathematical theorems can’t be rewritten without changing their meaning. Each idea/symbol has to follow in the exact order, otherwise it’s not the proof as presented by the original author.

        If you didn’t cite the original, then once again, you DO have a problem.

        Cite other people’s work as such and 99.999999999999% of your problems vanish.

  7. quiscalus
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    I was saddened to hear her being interviewed on NPR once, talking about Bigfoot, then the god crap, and now this. It may be age, it may be ghost written with her name used for sales alone, and she’s no Jonah Lehrer, but still, it’s damn depressing.

    and speaking of NPR, on Morning Edition, there’s a story about Phoenix charter schools using “Applied Scholastics”, which is apparently a Scientology program. check it out and weep in your cheerio’s… or jump up and down on your couch. whatever.

  8. alexandra
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    “GMO crops, which appear to be perfectly safe.”

    That is controversial. I quake in my boots to take exception to anything said by Mr Coyne, who I admire enormously, but there is serious question of GMO safety -especially when” super bugs” have already been observed. No, I can’t give you all the science on this.
    I don’t know if this is true but perhaps it is worth looking into? I do not trust Monsanto, partly for its anti-labeling campaign.

    An agricultural giant called the Monsanto Company has risen to the top of the corporate food chains thanks to their genetically modified corn and soybean sees, seeds bred to withstand and even produce their own herbicides and pesticides.

    But in the decades since they’ve appeared on the scene, two more things have sprung up: a new crop of “superweeds” that have evolved to resist our chemicals, and root worms that have become insecticide-resistant “superworms,” both of which are set to swarm the Midwest in the coming year.

    Rather than come clean, Monsanto has been covering their tracks, working to market their corn as fresh produce and spending millions to kill California’s Prop 37 requirement to label their corn and soybeans as genetically modified products.

    The FDA still doesn’t require safety studies for Monsanto’s new strains, they’re designing food to produce dangerous chemicals, and these same chemicals have been breeding superworms that will devastate the landscape in the decades to come.

    “Don’t stay silent. Please, join us in calling on Monsanto to stop fighting Prop 37 in California, and spread this information on the danger of genetically engineered crops to as many friends as you can.

    It’s time we knew what’s in the food we’re eating and the crops these companies are growing. Stop the superworm swarm: Join us in calling for greater transparency at the Monsanto Company!” Melanie Jones

    • Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      My problem with GMO crops isn’t with their genetic makeup. We’ve been genetically modifying crops since the moment we first started propagating them, rather intelligently so since Gregor Mendel, and now with finesse.

      My problem with GMO crops is Monsanto’s legal teams that sue farmers out of existence because Monsanto crops on the next plot over pollinated the farmer’s non-Monsanto crops.

      That is, my problem isn’t with the crops, but with the corps.



      • Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        I want to join this chorus, please.

      • gbjames
        Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        Bingo. I’m not scared of “frankenfood” woo. I am scared of big corporate control of the food system. I wish Monsanto critiques could free themselves of the silly anti GMO fear mongering and focus on the real threats agribusiness giants pose.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        Ditto this.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        I’d be hard pressed to come up with an example of a food we routinely eat that isn’t “genetically modified” in some way.

        Wheat, corn, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes. Cows, pigs, sheep, chickens.

        That kinda covers the modern American diet at least.

        Oh yeah, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

          Actually, every living thing is genetically modified. Sort of removes the scariness from the words.

          • Kevin
            Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

            Yes, true. I’m a mutant and proud of it.

      • Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        People shouldn’t be so quick to assume that ALL anti-GMO critiques are woo (though I agree that many of them are). First, the regulations for pesticides (such as bt) added to foods via genetic engineering are not as rigorous as for externally applied pesticides, and these GMO pesticides are distributed throughout the food and can’t be washed off. Doubts about the regulatory framework are exacerbated by the industry/government revolving door; for example, Obama appointed Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto VP as deputy commissioner of the FDA.
        I have not seen strong studies proving harm, but it would not be unscientific to be concerned; there are as far as I know no long-term studies in primates proving the safety of eating fair amounts of bt toxin or its derivatives.

        But more important, “skeptics” are often ignoring the ecological effect of GMOs. When bt or frost resistance genes escape from GMOs into their wild relatives, the increased selective advantage of these compared to their competitors could greatly alter natural ecosystems. We do have proof that the genes can escape, especially in the case of canola and its weedy wild Brassica relatives.

        Some people here argued that genes are commonly modified in crops by ordinary breeding. Of course. But putting a toxin-producing bacterial gene into a food plant is a huge change, not a simple incremental mutation. The wild relatives of Brassica clearly have not evolved something like this by themselves, and if they obtain it instantly (and if insect predation is an important regulator of population, and if the plant’s cost of producing bt is not too high), it could cause real problems. Likewise frost resistance (based on crustacean genes, I think) could result in devastating changes in arctic ecosystems.

        I am not saying that these things are now causing these problems (except in very limited areas); I am saying it is not unscientific to be concerned.

        • Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

          In case the quote marks around “skeptics” is misinterpreted, I meant that some people use the label of skepticism as a general shield to dismiss environmentalism, climate change, concern about GMOs, etc. I know virtually none of the commenters on this site are those kinds of “skeptics” (and of course neither is our host). But I’ve had arguments about GMOs on other sites (including a certain squidly one) where quite a lot of people seem to think anything that has ever been touched by woo is forever toxic. That’s as irrational as thinking anything touched by GMOs is toxic.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

          What IS unscientific is to argue that inserting gene x from species a to species b is inherently more dangerous than, say, destroying the environment with ever-greater doses of pesticides or suffering the consequences of social disruptions from famine-driven populations in marginal environments. Anti-GMO campaigners rarely use more than generic “it ain’t natural” scare tactics. Yeah, we don’t know all of the consequences of technical change. Twas ever thus.

          • Posted March 27, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

            This is why arguments against GMO crops turns me off.

            Genetic modification is being used in dodgy ways, yes. But bulldozers are also being used in dodgy ways. And both genetic modification and bulldozers can be used to build some of the most wonderful things our civilization is capable of.

            A blanket argument against genetic modification is a silly as a blanket argument against bulldozers.

            Argue against clearing rainforests, argue against (inadvertently) introducing BT expression into wild cruciforms.

            But don’t argue against bulldozers and genetic modification of crops.

            And, really…the sins from irresponsible genetic modification of crops are so trivial compared to everything else Monsanto does. Bhopal, anybody?

            Genetically modified crops are a distraction, one that takes away from the fight against the real threats these megacorps pose to society.



            • Posted March 27, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

              “Genetically modified crops are a distraction, one that takes away from the fight against the real threats these megacorps pose to society.”
              No Ben, it is not an “either-or” choice. Fight against a GMO if it causes serious damage, AND fight unethical corporations.

              • Posted March 27, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

                Lou, your position is as crazy as wanting to fight against bulldozers because of the serious damage they cause to rainforests.

                Genetic modification of crops isn’t the problem. Genetic modification of crops is a very useful tool for any civilization to have available to it — even more useful than a bulldozer, actually, in the long run.

                The problem isn’t the genetic modification of crops.

                The problem is the irresponsible use of the tool, not the tool itself.



              • Posted March 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                Where did I say to ban the tool? I said some GMOs really might cause problems when used as directed. These should be restricted or banned or fixed. Other GMOs might be the best thing since white bread.

                I wonder why this issue brings out such venom in some skeptics. Like I said above, I have seen this attitude on other generally skeptical threads as well.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 27, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

                I wonder why this issue brings out such venom in some skeptics

                Because most anti-GMO activists (not you, so don’t get excited) rely on uninformed fear mongering. They fail to make reasonable arguments and don’t help confront real issues because they can’t separate real from imagined threats.

              • Posted March 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                Where did I say to ban the tool?

                All over the place. “‘[S]keptics’ are often ignoring the ecological effect of GMOs.” “Fight against a GMO if it causes serious damage.” And lots more.

                Your problem as you’re stating it is with the bulldozers. If it’s just clearing clearing rainforests that’s got you upset, don’t even bother mentioning the technique used to clear them. A rainforest destroyed with bulldozers is just as gone as one destroyed with fire or Agent Orange. And butterflies that die from BT-modified corn are just as dead as ones that die from direct application of BT.

                You keep arguing against the tool, which is what makes you seem like a crank. Argue against what people are using the tool for, not the tool itself.



              • jesse
                Posted March 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                Lou, I don’t think most people have had much training in the science of ecology (let alone understand the definition of ecology), so they don’t always understand how an aberrant organism can get out of control and affect entire ecosystems–and over a long period of time. Many people only see GMOs as how they affect humans directly, and how they affect things in the short term.

                Best thing I can suggest for anyone reading this is to take an upper level college course in Insect Ecology. In such a course one learns how plants, fungi, animals, and physical environment are all interrelated. Parasites and pathogens, genetics and evolution, pesticides and integrated pest management… it’s all there in an Insect Ecology course.

              • Posted March 27, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                Ben, like you said, the ability to modify the genes of a crop directly is a very useful tool. I said nothing about that. If that tool sometimes produces a monster, better do something to contain, regulate, or ban the monster.

              • Posted March 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                Lou, I’m all for fighting the monsters.

                Just stop calling the monster “GMO,” regardless of what their individual real names are.

                …at least, if you don’t want people to dismiss you as a crank….


          • Posted March 27, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

            gbjames, that’s a straw man that bears no relation to my comment.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 27, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

              No relation? I thought we were discussing sense and nonsense in anti-GMO advocacy.

        • jesse
          Posted March 27, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

          Lou, thank you for your informative comment. You wrote,
          “But putting a toxin-producing bacterial gene into a food plant is a huge change, not a simple incremental mutation.”
          Well put. This has been one of my main concerns too.

          Another ecological concern of mine is whether bt-corn pollen landing on nearby plants hurts other lepidoptera populations. Has there been any research on this? Alex Wilde wrote about declining monarchs a couple days ago but that topic didn’t come up there.

          • Posted March 27, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

            As a matter of fact, I just read a few days ago that pollen from bt-modified corn was shown to affect monarch caterpillars. I did not read the original study though….if I run into the reference I will put it here.

            • Suri
              Posted March 27, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

              I am not for or against GMO’s but I do think the more we know the better.

              I cherry picked a few pragraphs from the WHO website:

              Q5. What are the main issues of concern for human health?

              While theoretical discussions have covered a broad range of aspects, the three main issues debated are tendencies to provoke allergic reaction (allergenicity), gene transfer and outcrossing.

              Allergenicity. As a matter of principle, the transfer of genes from commonly allergenic foods is discouraged unless it can be demonstrated that the protein product of the transferred gene is not allergenic. While traditionally developed foods are not generally tested for allergenicity, protocols for tests for GM foods have been evaluated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WHO. No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market.

              Gene transfer. Gene transfer from GM foods to cells of the body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the transferred genetic material adversely affects human health. This would be particularly relevant if antibiotic resistance genes, used in creating GMOs, were to be transferred. Although the probability of transfer is low, the use of technology without antibiotic resistance genes has been encouraged by a recent FAO/WHO expert panel.

              Outcrossing. The movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild (referred to as “outcrossing”), as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with those grown using GM crops, may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. This risk is real, as was shown when traces of a maize type which was only approved for feed use appeared in maize products for human consumption in the United States of America. Several countries have adopted strategies to reduce mixing, including a clear separation of the fields within which GM crops and conventional crops are grown.

              Q7. What are the issues of concern for the environment?

              Issues of concern include: the capability of the GMO to escape and potentially introduce the engineered genes into wild populations; the persistence of the gene after the GMO has been harvested; the susceptibility of non-target organisms (e.g. insects which are not pests) to the gene product; the stability of the gene; the reduction in the spectrum of other plants including loss of biodiversity; and increased use of chemicals in agriculture. The environmental safety aspects of GM crops vary considerably according to local conditions.

              Current investigations focus on: the potentially detrimental effect on beneficial insects or a faster induction of resistant insects; the potential generation of new plant pathogens; the potential detrimental consequences for plant biodiversity and wildlife, and a decreased use of the important practice of crop rotation in certain local situations; and the movement of herbicide resistance genes to other plants.


              There are a few reports that might be useful:

              Safety Assesment Of Foods Derived From Genetically Modified Microorganisms


              Evaluation Of Allergenicity Of Genetically Modified Foods


              Safety Aspects Of Genetically Modified Foods Of Plant Origin


      • Thanny
        Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        Which sounds awful, but is apparently not what actually happens. Monsanto has sued somewhere around 150 farmers in the past 15 or so years for intentionally collecting and selling seeds created with the engineered pollen.

        I don’t know a whole lot of the details, so I can’t rule out the possibility that the company is abusing the legal system, but it’s clear that the complaints about it are at a minimum grossly exaggerated.

      • Marella
        Posted March 31, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, and the dominance of the food supply by huge conglomerates which use their power to keep prices down to the point where farming is barely profitable, and then governments have to provide subsidies which are in effect subsidising the huge conglomerates.

    • Alice Wonder
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      My only problem with GMO is that the pesticides they make the crop resists is knows to cause reproductive problems in frogs at levels well below what the EPA says is acceptable in the water.

  9. Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    What’s happening with primatologists these days? Jeez…

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Daily awareness of prospects for survival of wild hominoids might have induced a fugue state…

      • Posted March 27, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Plagiarized amnesia is a fact-icious disorder. Drum roll.

  10. @eightyc
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink


    There must be something in the water that is turning scientists’ brain into mush.

    • Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Fluorine! lol

      What a pity! I can understand that if she travels 300 days a year, she does not have too much time to write by herself. A pity the editor (or whoever doing typos) will not catch this before it goes into the prints. If after a plagiarism analysis you still publish, well, you are conscious and deserve the blame (ok, maybe you take the decision 4 seconds before, I’ll admit).

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Presumably it’s the side effects of GM crops.

  11. Christopher
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Oh dear, how sad!

  12. worried secularist
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Very distressing. Goddite or not, she is a very remarkable woman who has brought both good research and honour to primatology, andother good causes.

    Until otherwise proved, I am choosing to believe that she did not write this herself, though must b held somewhat accountable.

  13. Krzysztof1
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Very unfortunate.

  14. Barry
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Oh well. If she is a plagiarist or a goddie, or both, it’s a comforting thought to know that she really has no free will in such matters.

  15. Xray
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    One of the examples doesn’t look so bad to me. “It was clear that I was probably looking at the last few seeds of this species in existence.” That’s a striking sentence and I can well imagine Aplin using it on many occasions.

    The other examples, well… 😦

  16. neil
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I’ve long ago given up the notion that just because someone accomplishes something significant or is correct on one issue I should therefore expect to find them faultless in other respects. An acquaintance whose thinking I had admired turned out to be a 9/11 conspiracy monger.

    • SA Gould
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink


    • jesse
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink


  17. Posted March 27, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    From Telegraph.co.uk:-

    Seeds Of Hope was co-written with Gail Hudson, an author who has collaborated with Dame Jane on two other books and describes herself as a former “spirituality editor” and “holistic living” enthusiast


    Hudson is a writing coach living in Seattle & her WordPress site is HERE where she writes:-

    Coaching & Book Development I specialize in helping clients write and publish blogs, essays, articles, interviews, memoirs, and non-fiction books. As a writing coach, one of my greatest strengths is helping writers offer meaning, insights and inspiration from life experiences.

    Goodall is of course responsible ~ how could she be so careless as to not check her ghost writer’s work?

  18. madscientist
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Is that plagiarism? I thought it was merely parroting propaganda. As for the “toxic chemicals” – DUH! If they weren’t toxic they’d be no damned good as pesticides. I’d rather use malathion than a “natural” product like derris which, although effective against some insects, is unbelievably toxic to fish and persistent in the environment.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted March 28, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

      I came across some “non toxic” rat poison in a hardware store once. I decided it wouldn’t work so I didn’t buy it!

  19. marksolock
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  20. Diane G.
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 12:15 am | Permalink


  21. jay
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    I am not sure what to make of this.

    Especially after reading this fascinating article:


    I probably should not be a writer, too dangerous.

    Frankly my posts are full of examples, analogies, explanations that, knowingly or unknowingly, have crept into my speech. It may often be that an argument I use to try to make a point is essentially the same argument that convinced me. What I ‘bring to the table’ is perhaps simply the amagamation of these points. I don’t really apologize for that, trying to make a point or explain something difficult is about the argument… not about the source. I could not possibly tell anyone where these examples or arguments originated. (Of course scientific papers need to be held to a different standard, but the recent crucifixion of people for what seems to be borrowing phrases sometimes goes over the top).

    [Shakespeare wouldn’t last 10 minutes in todays climate]

    I hope you don’t need to delete my posts after this confession.

  22. rikkigumbs
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Goodall has apologised for the plagiarism and called Wikipedia a ‘valuable’ source:


    All will be forgiven in the media, I’m sure.

  23. Marella
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I am not surprised. Jane always struck me as a bit loopy.

    Please stop dissing on Wikipedia, it is more accurate than text books, and generally an excellent first stop for most topics.

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