On Killer Apes, Naked Apes, and Just Plain Nasty People: The Misuse and Abuse of Science in Political Discourse


By David Moscrop and Richard J. Perry

Is biology destiny? Do our genes determine who we are and what we’re capable of? What does the mere idea that they might mean for politics and policy? A lot, it turns out.

In Killer Apes, Naked Apes, and Just Plain Nasty People, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, anthropologist and St. Lawrence University professor emeritus Richard J. Perry examines the origins and persistence of biological determinism–the idea that human behavior is set by our biology and very difficult, if not impossible, to change. He explores how the concept has made its way into popular, academic, and political discussions and debates, and looks at what that means for public policy, race relations, scientific research, and more.

Hippo Reads Politics and Economics editor David Moscrop asked Dr. Perry about his research into how we think of and discuss biology and politics, and what that means for the Western democratic world and the citizens who live in it.

DM: Why have certain ideas about “human nature”–for instance, racial or genetic determinism–gained popular uptake? What is it about the idea that certain human attributes and behaviors are fixed that appeals to the public?

RP: It’s not clear to me whether the prevalence of ideas about biological determinism lately has arisen from a general public interest, or if it’s is more a product of the media. There’s certainly some feedback involved, of course. But for some reason, some of the media seem especially eager to embrace these ideas. The New York Times, which we might expect to know better, has been at the forefront of this popularization over the past decade or so. Maybe it’s because these alleged “breakthroughs”–claims to have found a gene for this or that form of behavior–begin as surprising news, but then —> Read More