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Guenter the tragic cyborg simian: Primate see, primate do.

Fry: (shouting) C’mon in, roomie! [He opens the door but there is no one there. He looks down and sees a monkey wearing a bowler hat and carrying two cases.] (talking) What the–?
Monkey: I call top bunk! […]
Fry: My roommate’s a monkey?
Monkey: (sarcastic) Brilliant deduction, you’re a credit to your species.
Futurama (Season 2, Episode 2)

I’m a flea-bitten monkey
All my friends are junkies

Pathetic or anthropomorphic fallacy: Incorrectly projecting (attributing) human emotions, feeling, intentions, thoughts, traits upon events or objects which do not possess the capacity for such qualities.

Macacos pagam por sexo, revela estudo:


Globo (Brazil) picks up and (mis)translates a story filed in English by Gillian Wong of the Associated Press, whose copydesk heds and deks it:

Study: Monkeys ‘pay’ for sex by grooming

  • In the primate world, sex is subject to the law of supply and demand

There is a considerable difference between stating that

Primates pay for sex!

and that

Fifty males of the macaca fascicularis subspecies were observed to ‘pay’ for sex

For one thing, ‘pay’ entre aspas suggest there is an AP editor out there who understands that the fallacy of anthropomorphism is, at the very least, an open, not a settled, controversy in monkey science circles.

(I took monkey science for poets in college with a top-notch monkeyman, by the way.)

In related monkey science news from Globo:

The AP’s lead

Male macaque monkeys pay for sex by grooming females, according to a recent study that suggests the primates may treat sex as a commodity.

Globo’s translation:

Macacos machos pagam por sexo ao cuidar da beleza das fêmas [sic], de acordo com um recente estudo que sugere que os primatas podem tratar o sexo como um bem de consumo.

Male monkeys pay for sex by grooming femles [sic], according with a recent study that suggests that primates may treat sex as a commodity.

The findings of the study

Gumert’s findings, reported in New Scientist last week, resulted from a 20-month observation of about 50 long-tailed macaques in a reserve in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

A publication of Reed Business Information, publisher of such other esteemed science titles as HotFrog and

The AP’s lede commits a fallacy of scope, I think they call it, in appearing to generalize from the findings about a single subspecies of monkeys — Macaca fascicularis — to a genus with 22 species.

This is not a claim that the study makes, in AP’s account of it, at least.

Globo’s translation, meanwhile, compounds the loose use of language by several orders of magnitude.

It confuses the informal scientific designation for the genus in question — “macaque monkeys” — with the generic common-language term macaco.

Monkeys in general, that is, including the loose way we tend to use the term to describe simians who are not, technically, monkeys, such as apes, chimps, gorillas, and various sorts of people we do not like.

As a result, Globo winds up generalizing findings about a subspecies of a genus of Old World monkeys to findings about the entire primate order — by mistranslating “these primates” as “primates [in general]”

In Portuguese, abstract nouns take the definite article, which in English is normally understood as a, what the hell do the language nerds call it again? Scope restricter, something something?

A humanidade = Humanity

This is kind of a kindergarten translation error.

The macaques (pronounced /məˈkæk/) constitute a genus (Macaca, /məˈkækə/) of Old World monkeys of the subfamily Cercopithecinae.

Someone immediately adds a reference to this factoid to Wikipedia. Adds it — more correctly than either Globo or the AP — to the article on macaque monkeys — “a genus (Macaca, /məˈkækə/) of Old World monkeys of the subfamily Cercopithecinae.”

Results of a research done by Dr. Michael Gumert, a primatologist at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, shows that “male macaque monkeys pay for sex by grooming females”. Study found that “after a male grooms a female, the likelihood that she will engage in sexual activity with the male was about three times more than if the grooming had not occurred.

Diagnosis: The AP reporter is careless with her language, but the headline writer shows some awareness of the fallacy of anthropomorphism by placing “pays” in quotation marks, indicating a metaphorical usage.

The Globo translator and editor are utterly clueless.

Whoever posted the reference to Wikipedia at least filed it correctly and accurately.

And then again, there is the question of newsworthiness. Why is this news? Answer: Because it tends to confirm the hypothesis known as the “biological markets” theory

Other experts not involved in the study welcomed Gumert’s research, saying it was a major effort in systematically studying the interaction of organisms in ways in which an exchange of commodities or services can be observed — a theory known as biological markets. Dr. Peter Hammerstein, a professor at the Institute for Theoretical Biology at Humboldt University in Berlin and Dr. Ronald Noe, a primatologist at the University of Louis-Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, first proposed the concept of biological markets in 1994.

Globo does not bother translating that part of wire service story — the part that explains why this represents a putative scientific advance.

The experts cited are proponents of the same theory, and welcome the study as strengthening their hypothesis.

Likewise, I count Globo’s translation error as evidence for my emerging theory of the Globo network, which can be summarized as follows:

  • Consuming Globo infotainment products makes you stupider

No critics of the theory are heard from.

Are there any?

I am no monkey scientist, mind you, but I remember reading some very interesting monkey-science articles in Harper’s and elsewhere in recent years about the pitfalls of essentialism — and hasty generalization — in such interpretative theories of primate behavior.

My favorite: empirical evidence undermines of the theory according to which the “selfish genes” of “dominant males” are to be seen as the winners in a competion in the “marketplace” for females.

A DNA study of offspring from some sort of simian group — chimps, I think — showed that most offspring in the group were actually the product of — I love this phrase — “sneaky fucking.”

That is to say, dominant male attempts to secure the exclusive services of the females were systematically and successfully subverted, because the females tended to prefer the sexual companionship of non-dominant males.

The behavior studied was similar to that studied in this species — I am just recalling this off the top of my head now — but with a different interpretation:

  1. Dominant males were observed as having a tendency to constantly beat the snot out of non-dominant males, females and offspring
  2. Non-dominant males tended to groom females
  3. Male grooming of females could therefore be read as a behavior expresssing and reinforcing the “sneaky fucking” conspiracy against the dominant male culture

I am fond of this theory because it seems to explain (the successful portions of) my love life (before I got married) so well.

Relevant fallacies:

  • Misquoting (mistranslation)
  • Anthropomorphism (pathetic fallacy)
  • Confirmation bias
  • Selective evidence (ignoratio elenchi)

Failures to commun’cate observed:

  • “Chinese whispers”
  • Traduttore traditore

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