Science: Pigeon Talk

A triumph for bird brains

Until a few years ago, humans could feel fairly smug about what was thought to be their unique ability to communicate with one another by using spoken language or symbols. Then psychologists at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta taught two chimps named Austin and Sherman to "converse" by pushing buttons that displayed various symbols. For probably the first time, two animals were communicating by means other than their usual repertory of gestures, grunts and squeals.

It seemed like an extraordinary display of chimp intelligence, but retired Harvard Psychologist B.F. Skinner was certain that creatures much...

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