Clive D. L. Wynne
A mere 1% difference in DNA separates humans from our closest living relatives - the chimpanzees. The “Great Ape Project” argues that because the differences between humans and other great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans) are so slight the Great Apes should share basic human rights. The Project aims to have the UN adopt a declaration on the rights of nonhuman apes that would make research on them impossible.
Supporters of the Great Ape Project point to the psychological similarity between nonhuman apes and ourselves: nonhuman apes, they argue, are self-aware. As a consequence of self-awareness great apes must suffer in captivity in ways similar to what we would experience.
This is no abstract debate. There are about 1,600 chimpanzees held for biomedical research in the US alone and are central to the study of several maladies. Perhaps the most important example is liver disease. Research on chimpanzees led to the vaccine against hepatitis B. Nearly half the global population is at high risk of contracting this virus. Chimpanzees have also been crucial for the study of hepatitis C.
But hepatitis only heads the list. AIDS is another example, because chimpanzees are the only nonhuman species that can be infected with HIV. Chimpanzees are also helping scientists battle other health problems, including spongiform encephalitis (“mad-cow disease”), malaria, cystic fibrosis and emphysema. Because they are close to us, nonhuman great apes are suitable for research on several diseases that cause human suffering. Yet, does this similarity make biomedical experimentation difficult to justify ethically?
One reason to think so is the idea that the minds of nonhuman great apes are similar to ours because some of animals have been taught sign language. But thirty years of research on the abilities of chimpanzees and bonobos to communicate using signs has demonstrated few compelling examples of anything close to human language. In all these studies, the animal’s vocabulary developed slowly, and never exceeded a couple of hundred signs (about two weeks’ work for a healthy two-year-old child). Chimpanzee utterances rarely extend beyond one or two signs – making discussion of grammar or syntax forced.
More recent reports suggesting ape grammar are those of a bonobo named Kanzi, whose linguistic abilities are alleged to exceed those seen in earlier sign-language studies with chimpanzees. A critical test for Kanzi’s comprehension of sentence structure involved asking him to respond to an instruction such as “would you please carry the straw?” Sure enough, Kanzi picks up the straw. But although grammar may have conveyed the correct meaning of the test sentence, the circumstances could also have made the requested action obvious (given that Kanzi knows what the words
European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have given the go-ahead to talks with Britain on post-Brexit trade relations. But, as European Council President Donald Tusk has said, the most difficult challenge – forging a workable deal that secures broad political support on both sides – still lies ahead.
Jean Pisani-Ferry argues that Britain has no clear objective, owing to divisions in the ruling Conservative party, and that the EU-27 should provide the missing vision.
Harold James sees two possible outcomes to the talks: a “Hamlet" ending, with the stage littered with corpses, or a scenario recalling one of the Bard’s bleaker comedies, "All’s Well That Ends Well."
Rupert Murdoch’s sale of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets to Disney for $66 billion may mark the end of the media mogul’s career, which will long be remembered for its corrosive effect on democratic discourse on both sides of the Atlantic.
From enabling the rise of Donald Trump to hacking the telephone of a murdered British schoolgirl, Murdoch’s media empire has staked its success on stoking populist rage.
For Nina L Khrushcheva, Murdoch is the ultimate Guilty Man responsible for fueling the political polarization that has eroded governance in the US.
The late Jonathan Schell believed that Murdoch's power mostly stemmed from his willingness to pander to atavism and anti-Semitism to boost Fox News’ ratings.
But Murdoch hasn't been acting alone, argues Lucy P. Marcus, for he has been enabled by shareholders who turn a blind eye to his methods and toxic corporate culture.
As inequality continues to deepen worldwide, we do not have the luxury of sticking to the status quo.
Unless we confront the inequality challenge head on – as we have just begun to do with another existential threat, climate change – social cohesion, and especially democracy, will come under growing threat.
Despite seemingly robust indicators, the world economy may not be nearly as resilient to shocks and systemic challenges as the consensus view seems to believe. The absence of a vigorous rebound from the Great Recession means that the global economy never recouped lost growth.
Since the hyperinflation of the 1970s, which central banks were right to combat by whatever means necessary, maintaining positive but low inflation has become a monetary-policy obsession. But, because the world economy has changed dramatically since then, central bankers have started to miss the monetary-policy forest for the trees.
Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a former member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, outlines the five criteria he uses to judge the efficacy of tax reform efforts. And in his view, the US Republicans’ most recent offering fails miserably.
CRISPR-Cas – a gene-editing technique that is far more precise and efficient than any that has come before it – is poised to change the world. But ensuring that those changes are positive – helping to fight tumors and mosquito-borne illnesses, for example – will require scientists to apply the utmost caution.
The Year Ahead 2018
The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.