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Jane Goodall: unorthodox primatologist

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Jane Goodall loves to tell stories describing what chimpanzees are up to near her research center at Gombe, in East Africa. But, as the top primatologist of her generation, Goodall also was the first to use a standardized and quantitative format for collecting data.

Prodded by Robert Hinde, her demanding professor at Cambridge University, Goodall incorporated his check sheet data-collection system at Gombe. By the early 1980s, Hinde had sent Goodall more than 100 people to help gather information on chimp behavior. That amassing of facts proved her groundbreaking discovery that humans aren’t the world’s only tool users.

Among the things that fueled her rise as a great primatologist, Goodall:
  • Thought differently. Throwing off orthodoxy, she saw chimp behavior not just in the aggregate but as the study of individuals.

  • Valued knowledge, not credentials. At the beginning of Goodall’s scientific career, she didn’t even hold a bachelor’s degree. She’d graduated from secretarial school.

  • Was brave. Goodall set up her research center in the African wilderness at a time and place considered unsafe for men, not to mention women.

  • Shrugged off critics. When Goodall attended her first scientific conference in 1962, the biggest name in the field mocked her as a glamorous “amateur.”

  • Used all her skills. A gifted writer and speaker, Goodall takes advantage of both talents to publicize the endangered state of wild apes.

  • Stuck to her guns. Goodall essentially invented primatology as a modern science.
—Adapted from Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, Dale Peterson, Houghton Mifflin Co.

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