Talk:Koko (gorilla)

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/Archive 1

Questionable References[edit]

Two points;

1. I note that the sources for this claim in the article "Other researchers argue that she does not understand the meaning behind what she is doing and learns to complete the signs simply because the researchers reward her for doing so (indicating that her actions are the product of operant conditioning)."
Do not support it, the first talks about what Patterson herself has said about her research, and in fact directly contradicts the claim it's being used to support, with reference to a double blind test to counter that specific criticism. Which is not mentioned in this article for balance.
The second is from a book by Susan Blackmore who is not a researcher, but a freelance writer, on such subjects 'psychology and the paranormal'. And her reference contradicts itself, (broken link in the article, but just tracked down a working link) saying that claims Koko knew signs and could put them together in sequences three long 'gave way under criticism' (without references or citations to support that assertion), but then then concluding that the consensus is that chimpanzees and gorillas can learn signs and use short sequences of them appropriately.
Making a vague reference to 'other researchers' without defining that seems a bit like weasel words.
2. And regarding this part, :"Criticism from some parts of the scientific community centers on the fact that while publications often appear in the popular press about Koko, scientific publications are fewer in number." I am concerned that the cites to support this assertion about alleged criticism are both from Patterson herself and also extremely dated, being from 1978 and 1981 respectively. Number36 (talk) 21:53, 9 February 2015 (UTC)

To avoid an edit war.[edit]

Can someone link to a single credible source (a source other than Patterson herself) that confirms that she taught this gorilla sign language? My original edit has been reverted and re-added by several different people in just a short period of time. Why should Patterson's claims just be accepted as fact with no corroborating evidence? Kdb1965 (talk) 06:07, 15 February 2015 (UTC)

Such references already exist in the article, as does discussion of criticism. Introducing the word 'supposedly' in the lede, as per the edit summary would be unencyclopedic and POV in tone, the article can deal with criticism and does. It's indisputable that Koko was taught, in the sense of being instructed, the only disagreement centres around the degree to which it was successful. Also your edit was not re-added by several people, only one editor re-introduced it, two separate editors have removed it. There's no hint of an edit war nor need to raise the possibility of one.Number36 (talk) 20:43, 15 February 2015 (UTC)
I don't think "was taught" are the words we want. If you write "John was taught to play the Tuba", it is not really all that clear that he may not have learned what he was taught. Chrisrus (talk) 06:54, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
I disagree, if John is getting lessons in playing the Tuba he is being taught whether or not he turns out to be any good at it. Just as you wouldn't say a teacher retroactively isn't a 'teacher' if it turns out their students don't retain their lessons (which would be bad news for a lot of algebra teachers). And no one, even the critics, claim that Koko has not been taught anything at all in any case in either sense. It's indisputable that she knows how to form signs for instance.Number36 (talk) 22:08, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
Please see my recent edits to the lead to attempt to address these concerns.__DrChrissy (talk) 22:21, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
I still have to disagree I'm afraid, and it was not discussed here. 'It is claimed by her trainer' still introduces unnecessary bias into the article and inaccurate implications -it is not merely 'claimed' nor is Patterson the only source of this. It's the place of the article to explore the subject and different opinions further. 'Taught' is perfectly correct, neutral, and appropriate for the previously stated reasons. What should be addressed is, as per the above section, that the alleged criticism in the article has questionable cites, weasel words, and is not referenced properly (references not supporting the claims they're attached to), nor with reliable/credible sources.Number36 (talk) 22:29, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
How about (if we must avoid the word 'taught'), something as neutral as possible, along the lines of "Hanabiko "Koko" (born July 4, 1971) is a female western lowland gorilla, the subject of a study on language ability in primates which has been conducted since 1972 by researcher Dr. Francine Patterson, involving the teaching of sign language." Number36 (talk) 23:10, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
If I say that I taught my dog to speak (or roll over, or whatever), and you asked me to show you, I'd sound pretty stupid if I said, "well, he never learned to speak, I just taught him to". Without clarification, "teaching" implies learning the thing that is taught. Otherwise you only tried to teach. Saying you taught someone who didn't learn is like saying you killed someone who didn't die. — kwami (talk) 00:15, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
I am not sure. As a person who has taught many people things that they never managed to learn perhaps it is less weird to me. Also Koko did learn to reproduce many signs, even to combine them in novel ways, the question is whether she learned sign language to a degree that it would be considered "having learned ASL" or rather as having learned "signs from ASL".User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 00:24, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
I disagree with Kwami, for the reasons I've already outlined. Would you say you aren't teaching your dog to sit, until you have been successful in teaching it to sit? -What would you say you're doing then while engaged in teaching it to do so. But it's moot, since we've moved past the apparently contentious word with my last proposal above.Number36 (talk) 00:41, 17 February 2015 (UTC)

Scientific sources disputing Patterson's claims aren't hard to find - see for example [1] AndyTheGrump (talk) 22:33, 16 February 2015 (UTC)

Well, 1. That source is not referenced in the article, so it's moot to the specific problems identified above 2. It'd be difficult to cite appropriately or with specificity from only the abstract. 3. It's extremely dated, being from 36 years ago. Koko was only 8 in 1979, and more has been published since then.Number36 (talk) 22:54, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
  • I think linguists and primatologists are pretty unanimous in considering Koko's signs to be operant conditioning and not true learning.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 23:05, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
Shall we just cite you thinking that in the article then? He said in entirely good humour which should not be taken the wrong way :^) -I'm not interested in taking a side or pushing a POV, I have no horse in this race, -the point is to have the article correctly referenced and unbiased. The distinction of contrasting 'operant conditioning' with 'true learning' poses a question itself -operant conditioning is a method of learning.Number36 (talk) 23:19, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
I have to agree. Pavlovian conditioning and Operant conditioning are both learning. I have no idea what is the diffference between "true learning" and "learning"__DrChrissy (talk) 23:41, 16 February 2015 (UTC)
I should have been more specific, conditioning is of course learning, but using signs learned through conditioning is not language - language learning requires a different kind of learning.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 00:06, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
With chimps, it's evidently fairly clear that, when they want something, they use the various signs they've learned, essentially randomly, until they get the result they want. The obvious conclusion is that they attach no meaning to the individual signs. — kwami (talk) 00:21, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
Discussion of the subject, and what the opinion/understanding/interpretation of editors here is of various aspects of it, is neither here nor there, -what matters are reliable sources that discuss the subject and make such distinctions in the context of this subject.Number36 (talk) 00:41, 17 February 2015 (UTC)

Maunus is right. Contrary to what most people think, expert consensus is that she doesn't use language and Patterson is an embarassment. Here, watch this: The part specifically about Koko starts at about 1:28:00, but for background you might want to start about 2/3 of the way in. Chrisrus (talk) 00:27, 17 February 2015 (UTC)

Looking at your other comments on the page, and use of language like 'Patterson is an embarassment', it seems like you are motivated by a particular POV, running the risk of confirmation bias. Again, correct reliable references are what matter to the article.Number36 (talk) 00:41, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
I object to the accusations of bias. Nothing on this talk page shows any bias on my part whatsoever towards anything but the truth. Readers of this article should be written in as much the same way as that lecture segment I referred to earlier: as appropriate for an encyclopedia; i.e.: the reader should come away understanding that what most people believe about Koko and language is just not true: Koko does not use language. Chrisrus (talk) 03:11, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
  • Michael W. Eysenck, 2000, Psychology: A Student's Handbook Taylor & Francis, p. 247 "On the negative side, Koko showed little evidence of having mastered syntax or the grammatically correct ordering of words. In addition, most of her communications were rather brief and were certainly shorter than is the case even with young children. Thus Koko only exhibited some of the features of language." Incidentally, syntax is considered by many linguists to be exactly what defines the difference between language and non-linguistic communication, and hence the reason many linguists consider her communication to be an example of non-linguistic use of signs.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 01:04, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
Again, this 1. isn't a source in the article, so moot to the specific concerns about the references in the above section. and 2. You've clearly cherry picked that when looking at the text that precedes it (which even includes that word 'taught'!), in the short section on Patterson in the book; link. This isn't a discussion for the talk page, we should not be interested in trying to convince anyone of a particular view in regards to the subject here, but to report what reliable sources say, and reference them appropriately and correctly in the article.Number36 (talk) 01:19, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
Whether the source is used is utterly irrelevant. And no I have not cherry picked it, and I have no problem with using the word "taught" as long as it is also made entirely clear that she did not infact learn ASL but only a number of ASL signs which she used without syntax or grammar. Your attempts at trying to tell others what to discuss and how are getting a little annoying by now.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 01:24, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
"Whether the source is used is utterly irrelevant." -That's the thing though, -it's the only thing that's relevant. That's the whole point of the talk page; the article itself. That's not me, it's the guideline WP:TALK "The purpose of a Wikipedia talk page (accessible via the talk or discussion tab) is to provide space for editors to discuss changes to its associated article or project page. Article talk pages should not be used by editors as platforms for their personal views on a subject.". I apologise if my comments seem annoying to you, but this is an important point, especially in regards to the concerns about the specific references in the above section.Number36 (talk) 01:36, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
I see you've included them now Maunus, -good edits. (also the aside about 'taught' being included was not intended as a dig at you, I was just noting it in reference to the previous discussion about it).Number36 (talk) 01:49, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
On one of those points though, -it's surely an unusual, or at least specialised, use of the word 'language' that would say a baby saying 'mama', 'milk', or 'up', isn't speaking using language simply because there's no syntax involved, wouldn't that even apply to someone expressing something with a single word? Offering someone a chip by simply saying 'chip?', for instance.Number36 (talk) 02:09, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
I dont think its that unusual. If that baby grows to 10 and still only uses 1000 words and does not form sentences then noone would claim that they speak English or that they have acquired functional language. Nor would anyone consider that you speak Italian merely by memorizing a dictionary of the language. The fact that ordinary language sometimes doesnt distinguish between vocabulary and language is not really an argument here.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 03:48, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
"then noone would claim that they speak English or that they have acquired functional language." If they were English words why wouldn't you say English was the language they speak? (To the degree to which they can do so that is). And while you're of course right that it'd have to be qualified as being of a very basic level, it surely couldn't be said they don't have any language ability at all in that hypothetical situation. How would the distinction between someone who knows words and uses them appropriately, and someone who has no language ability whatsoever be made, from an academic point of view. I mean what are they using if not language?Number36 (talk) 04:17, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
They are using words. Words that come from English (or ASL), but language is more than a collection of words - specifically it is a set of rules for how to connect words into meaningful sentences (at least from one theoretical perspective which has for awhile been dominant in linguistics). User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 04:26, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
"They are using words. Words that come from English" -So English words; words in the English language. How is 'using a word' distinct from 'saying a word' as in speaking. Aren't they then using that language to communicate? If someone says 'chip?' to offer you a chip, did they use language or not? It's an English word, so they're using English, which is a language. Of course language is more than that, but it's still part of language. In the same way that maths is more than adding, but you're still doing maths if you can add but don't know multiplication, division, fractions, etc. I hope this isn't coming across as argumentative, I'm just trying to clarify this point, which I think is relevant for the article.Number36 (talk) 06:13, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
I actually answered that in the previous statement. Using words is using a part of language, but it is not using language just like a collection of bricks is not a house. Using an English word correctly is not the same as knowing English. Using 1000 ASL signs is not the same as knowing ASL. Your math analogy is incorrect because addition is a process, not an item. The correct analogy would be that knowing the numbers 7, 9, 36, 98 and 2205, is not the same as knowing how to count. It is quite simple really, but it requires that you are willing to understand that language in fact is something other than what you apparently believe it is, namely it is a system of processes and mutual relations between lexical items, not the mere collection of words. That being said it is of course the case that the question of whether Koko uses language or not depends on how we define language. But the definition under which Koko can be said to use language (i.e. knowing a collection of words), just happens not to be accepted as a valid definition by any specialists in language.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 06:24, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
"Using words is using a part of language, but it is not using language"
-How can you use part of something without being said to be using it?
"Your math analogy is incorrect because addition is a process, not an item. The correct analogy would be that knowing the numbers 7, 9, 36, 98 and 2205, is not the same as knowing how to count."
-Okay, I see your point. I'd say the analogy would be closer to if someone could recognise amounts, like 1, 2, and 3. And use those numbers correctly, but not count higher than small numbers. They'd still be counting, which is a part of maths, even though maths is of course much more than that.
"It is quite simple really, but it requires that you are willing to understand that language in fact is something other than what you apparently believe it is, namely it is a system of processes and mutual relations between lexical items, not the mere collection of words."
-I know language is more than just a collection of words, I haven't disagreed with that (I even said 'Of course language is more than that' in the last comment), but words are still part of language (a pretty significant part at that really). So if you're using words, then it follows that you're using language. That part of language at least. So it can't be correct to call it 'non-linguistic communication'. You're not using the parts of language that involve syntax or grammar. -Which your edit to the article correctly points out/clarifies I might add.Number36 (talk) 06:44, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
You are simply repeating yourself at this point. True linguistic communication is defined by having syntax, recursivity, displacement, productivity, and words (form/meaning pairings). It is not language unless it has all of those things. The argument that words are part of language ergo using words means using language is a logical fallacy, a non sequitur of the type affirming the consequent, which I am not going to spend more time pointing out to you.User:Maunus ·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 07:58, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
I'm sorry but no, you're incorrect, it is not affirming the consequent at all. Words are part of language; therefore using words is using language follows perfectly logically. It isn't making a claim that you are using any more than that part of language. You've failed to address the points raised, and also making a number of assertions with citing any sources. Claiming that words are both a part of language and non-linguistic is contradictory, and frankly nonsensical.Number36 (talk) 08:25, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
Your personal opinion on what constitutes 'language' is neither here nor there - the fact is that there are multiple credible academic sources which reject Patterson's claims to have taught Koko the use of language, as the term is generally understood within academia. And since Patterson has made these claims within academia, that is the standard she must be judged by. Accordingly, this article must make it entirely clear that her claims are disputed, and cannot uncritically repeat anecdotal (and off-topic) tales about Koko's supposed signing about the loss of the pet kitten and the rest. AndyTheGrump (talk) 02:29, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
"Your personal opinion on"
-I see what you're attempting there, but I wasn't forwarding a personal opinion. So nope, doesn't really work.
"the fact is that there are multiple credible academic sources which reject Patterson's claims to have taught Koko the use of language, as the term is generally understood within academia."
-great! Please present these as references for inclusion in the article. Perhaps with an explanation that this is a specialized use of the word in the context of their academic field, and defining precisely what is meant by it in context, would be appropriate. Properly referenced of course (& without WP:Synth). I think the comment about syntax and grammar just introduced is sufficient on that point though, being more defined.
"Accordingly, this article must make it entirely clear that her claims are disputed,"
-It does as far as I can tell. Maunuses last edits helped. Addressing the problems with the references in the above section still needs to be done though. One thing though, I think it'd be helpful to be specific about what the claim is that's being disputed, and perhaps to cite her making the claim in question.
"and cannot uncritically repeat anecdotal (and off-topic) tales about Koko's supposed pet kitten and the rest."
I can't see what that has to do with anything anyone's said.Number36 (talk) 02:57, 17 February 2015 (UTC)

Image of All Ball[edit]

I've written to The Gorilla Foundation requesting an image. Hopefully one will be donated. Anna Frodesiak (talk) 03:48, 23 July 2015 (UTC)

I just realized that we don't even have an image of Koko. I'll ask for one of those too. Anna Frodesiak (talk) 09:28, 8 August 2015 (UTC)

Drat! My email account stopped working during negotiations so I emailed from a different account. No reply. I may write again, but I don't want to bug them to much. Pity. Anna Frodesiak (talk) 00:32, 6 September 2015 (UTC)

Recent deletion[edit]

Tonight, the following was deleted. The purpose of this section is to discuss whether it should have been:

Reportedly, Koko enjoys seeing human nipples and will request her female caregivers to show them to her on occasion. This has resulted in sexual harassment lawsuits by caregivers who have felt pressured by Patterson to show their nipples to Koko against their will. Attorney Jody Weiner, who previously represented KoKo in licensing agreements, writes that he should have recognized warning signs of a sex scandal. During a visit to Koko's compound, Koko reportedly told Weiner in sign language to enter her trailer. After Weiner was cautioned to decline, KoKo reportedly signed that she wanted her attorney to take off his coat and apparently show her his nipples.[1] [2]

I seem to recall something like this happening. There was a lawsuit alleging sexual assault involving Penny telling interns to allow Koko to grope their nipples, like it was part of the job. This was a significant event, as I recall, with widespread press coverage. This should be carefully researched and properly included in this article. We should not omit such a significant thing, and include so many trivial things about Koko. It doesn't seem right. Chrisrus (talk) 04:18, 16 October 2015 (UTC)

It is a delicate issue. While true, we need to apply WP:BLP here. I am not kidding. Zezen (talk) 07:45, 14 March 2016 (UTC)

"Homeopathic dietary supplements"?[edit]

See Koko (gorilla)#Life. I do not think that word means what you think it means. I don't want to get into this article. Can a regular please correct this? Tom Haws (talk) 14:54, 4 December 2015 (UTC)

Please include a section on Mr. Rogers visit with Koko[edit]

Thanks Benvhoff (talk) 15:59, 7 December 2015 (UTC)


As mentioned in the article, there's a lot of stuff in the popular press about Koko, but very little primary data: however, the claim I happened upon in today, that Koko and Michael may have described their dreams seems plausible. The claim isn't sourced: does anyone have an idea where this anecdote comes from? ~dom Kaos~ (talk) 12:08, 22 December 2016 (UTC)

More sources that could be used[edit]

Don't have time to process right now, but the following could be useful.

  1. 2016 NY Post article on Koko and Francine Patterson
  2. UWM blurb about 2015 article in "Animal Cognition"

Martinp (talk) 11:50, 27 July 2017 (UTC)

  1. ^ Jody Weiner, “Hot Koko,” California Lawyer, July 2005. p. 80.
  2. ^ Jody Weiner, "Hot Koko & the Fetching Cat." Kinship with Animals. Ed. Kate Solisti and Michael Tobias. San Francisco/Tulsa: Council Oak, 2006. 182-88.