Barbara in the News about the Grieving Orca Mother
Scientific American, March 2019
The New York Times, August 7, 2018
Breakfast Television Vancouver, August 1, 2018
Public Outreach by Barbara
Barbara writes for writer David Abrams’ site “The Quivering Pen” about her mother, reading, dementia, and grief
The Quivering Pen, December 2, 2019
On my bookshelf at home sits Still Alice by Lisa Genova. The novel, which tells the story of cognitive psychology professor Alice Howland’s struggles with early-onset Alzheimer’s, is 292 pages long; nestled at page 265 is my mother’s bookmark. Before she could finish reading, my mother, Elizabeth King, died of COPD and vascular dementia at age 88.
Species Unite, Season 3, Episode 2
Many of us who have animals in our lives know that they experience emotion, we know because we’ve seen it. We’ve witnessed our dogs express joy when we walk through the door, watched them display jealousy toward another animal, or we’ve seen them mourn the loss of a companion. When someone asks, “how do we know?” usually, most of us say something along the lines of, “we just know… it’s obvious.” But, that’s not how it works in science.
In the March 2019 issue of Scientific American, Barbara discusses new observations of grief in animals regarding why some species mourn and others do not
Scientific American, March 2019
Last July a female orca named J35 captured worldwide attention for her unprecedented vigil. She had just given birth, following a nearly year-and-a-half-long gestation period. But 30 minutes after birth, the calf died. J35 would not let her baby go. With great effort, she swam with the tiny body on her head and made deep dives to retrieve it when it slipped off. Other members of her pod registered her distress: at one point, a group of females gathered in a tight circle around J35, an act of emotional attunement that lasted at least two hours. Seventeen days and 1,000 miles passed before J35 finally released her daughter’s corpse for good.
Barbara considers anthropologist Richard Wrangham’s idea that capital punishment made us human, in The Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement, February 26, 2019
In writing for a wide non-specialist public about the power of biology, the hard-to-shift, ingrained nature of violence, and the role of males in executing other males and thus driving our evolutionary trajectory, Richard Wrangham invites counter-arguments that I hope will be aired widely.
Barbara’s response at NPR to the drowning deaths of factory-farmed pigs and chickens after Hurricane Florence, featuring photographs by We Animals
We need to look beyond the numbers, and the tendency to focus on just the agriculture industry’s losses of “swine” and “broiler chickens.” As I have written elsewhere, these pigs and chickens, just like the hunting dogs, are thinking and feeling beings. It’s all too easy to imagine their terror as the floodwaters rose. No one came to their rescue, and they drowned.
Weekly between fall 2011 and spring 2018, Barbara wrote science commentaries focusing mostly on cognition and emotion of animals ranging from chimpanzees to octopuses and cats to cows; discoveries in human evolution including those related to ancient early art and culture; and issues of gender, including the spectrum of gender identities.
Undark Magazine, 2017
On the night after her six-hour-plus cancer surgery, laying alone in her hospital bed hooked up to medical equipment, Barbara felt acute empathy for the “bile bears” held in confinement in China and Vietnam. But as she explains, it’s not only bile bears in other countries who need our attention and our empathy.
Aeon Magazine, 2017
Science tells us that domestic pigs think and feel, so why do we as a society value the taste of bacon and barbecue more than the lives of animals who fascinate us with their cognitive and emotional capacities? Barbara writes about these issues, looking at research studies and at the life of one majestic pig named Christopher Hogwood.
Barbara argues in this piece that while we humans can do things other animals can’t, too often that leads us to miss what she calls “the fundamental, and often profoundly moving, continuity between how we humans and other animals negotiate the world using our heads and our hearts.” The distinction between being “unique” (which we are) and being “superior” (which we aren’t!) is key.
The Atlantic, 2016
Jane Goodall famously suggested that chimpanzees may feel awe and wonder for their natural world in ways that are reasonable to call “spiritual.” More recently, some scholars have suggested chimpanzees may exhibit full-out religious tendencies. What can we make of this? Barbara admits that she is a skeptic about some of these ideas but enjoys the collegial discussion with other scholars.
Times Literary Supplement, 2016
Essay about Peter Wohlleben’s ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’
In one of her frequent essays for the TLS, Barbara considers a fascinating book suggesting that trees communicate, think, and act in social networks with each other. Finding much to be excited about, including the invitation to think differently about trees in much the same way we were once invited to think differently about animals, Barbara also explains why she feels a degree of skepticism is needed about the claims made regarding tree pain.
Scientific American, 2013; Selected for The Best American Science & Nature Writing 2014
Dolphin moms who keep their babies afloat after death, elephants who stand vigil at the body of a matriarch who has passed on, and a duck who can’t recover emotionally from the loss of his friend: Barbara offers examples of animal grief, considers how we should define grief in nonhumans, and considers the evolutionary trajectory of mourning behavior.