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Breadth and balance in primatology.

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American Journal of Primatology 1261-263 (1981)
EDITORIAL
Breadth and Balance in Primatology
J. ERWIN, EDITOR
American Journal of Primatology
According to its broadest definition, primatology may include the entire range of
scientific study involving primates. I favor a broad definition of the field with regard
to the scope of the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PRIMATOLOGY; yet, there is a clear
need to examine the balance of primatological research, and to evaluate the relative
current contributions to primatology from various disciplines.
There are several approaches to the assessment of balance within the broad interdisciplinary field of primatology. Each method depends to some extent on the definition
of primatology, including historical concerns, current status, and consideration of future
directions. Some of the questions regarding these matters are briefly addressed here.
Funk & Wagnalls on Primatology
Imagine my surprise when Nancy recently pointed out to me that one of our dictionaries included a definition of primatology. According t o Funk and Wagnalls Standard
Encyclopedic Dictionary (1970), the following definition applies: “Pri.ma.tol.o.gy
pri‘ma.tol’a.jE) n. The study of the origin, structure, evolution, and classification of
primates. - pri’.ma-tol’o.gist n.” That’s probably not a bad definition, although many
of us believe our field includes much more than Funk and Wagnalls suggests. Surely
modern primatology is not limited to anatomy, phylogeny, and systematics (although
the value of these disciplines should not be diminished). Because the literature in
primatology has doubled and redoubled since that dictionary was published, it is not
too surprising that the definition doesn’t fit the current content of the field too well. Of
course, we primatologists reserve the right to expand or define the content of our field
as we choose. Funk and Wagnalls can only supply definitions after the fact. A more
direct and empirical method of assessing the current scope of primatology can result
from examination of professional activity.
The Empirical Definition
There are two primary indicators of scientific activity, publication of research reports
in journals and presentation of papers and symposia at meetings of professional/scientific societies. For primatology, the international bibliographic source, CURRENT
PRIMATE REFERENCES, allows examination of virtually all scientific work with
primates published around the world. This can provide the basis for a review of the
balance of primatology defined in its broadest sense. Some details will be presented
below.
The second primary indicator of scientific activity in primatology is presentation of
papers at meetings. Such papers are not ordinarily listed in bibliographic services
unless the proceedings are published. Consequently, it is difficult to obtain a comprehensive indication of activity from any single source. We can, however, obtain what
may be a more precise picture of the field than is otherwise available by examining the
0275-256518110103-0261$01.500 1981 Alan R. Liss, Inc.
262
Erwin
proceedings of meetings devoted specifically to primatology. The proceedings of the
Fourth Meeting of the American Society of Primatologists, held in San Antonio, Texas,
June 2-5, 1981, are included in this issue of the journal. The vitality, as well as the
current emphases of primatology, are apparent in these proceedings.
I have analyzed the contents of CURRENT PRIMATE REFERENCES for 1980 to
provide an indication of current topical balance in work done with primates. The results
are included in Table One.
It is quite clear that research in the neurosciences currently overshadows work with
primates on any other topic, at least in sheer quantity. In addition, perusal of references
t o work done on primate nervous systems reveals that much of this work is of significance for basic primatology and other related disciplines. Because of the volume of
specialized work in this field, there is a serious need for integrative reviews to synthesize
and summarize existing knowledge. The AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PRIMATOLOGY
seeks such reviews in the neurosciences, as well as in other fields.
Pharmacology/therapeutics and behavior were also very active research areas. Together with the neurosciences, pharmacological and behavioral studies comprised about
one third of all research referenced in CURRENT PRIMATE REFERENCES during
1980. Much of the pharmacological work involved use of nonhuman primates to clarify
metabolic pathways or action sites of drugs. While these studies are of considerable
value in assessing potential drug action for humans, many of them are not of direct
concern to primatologists due to the synthetic nature of the chemicals involved. There
are, however, important connections between this work and some being done in the
neurosciences, endocrinology, nutrition, and other fields.
Primate behavior is generally regarded as one of the fundamental areas of primatology.
Perhaps it is surprising to others (as it is to me) that less than 10% of the papers
TABLE I. The Top Twenty Areas in Primatology Based on Number of Publications
Referenced in CURRENT PRIMATE REFERENCES during 1980.
N
1. NERVOUS SYSTEM
2. PHARMACOLOGYiTHERAPEUTICS
3. BEHAVIOR
4. DENTALiORAL STRUCTURES
5. ENDOCRINOLOGY
6. CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
7. REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
8. TOXICOLOGYIENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
9. GENERAL PRIMATOLOGY
10. METABOLISM & NUTRITION
11. EYE (NON-NEURAL)
12. VIRAL INFECTIONS
13. MUSCULOSKELETAL SYSTEM
14. ECOLOGY & CONSERVATION
15. PARASITIC INFESTATION
16. LEARNING & PERCEPTION
17. GENETICS
18. DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
19. BLOOD & BODY FLUIDS
20. IMMUNOLOGY
ALL OTHER TOPICS
TOTAL
511
372
349
199
188
182
175
155
153
128
122
108
104
91
89
81
79
72
64
62
525
3809
% of Total
13.4%
9.8%
9.2%
5.2%
4.9%
4.8%
4.6%
4.1%
4.0%
3.4%
3.2%
2.8%
2.7%
2.4%
2.3%
2.1%
2.1%
1.9%
1.7%
1.6%
13.8%
100.0%
Editorial
263
referenced dealt directly with primate behavior. Of these behavioral studies, less than
one in four was conducted in natural or freeranging settings. Thus, field studies of
primate behavior represented less than 2% of all studies reported on nonhuman primates. I have been seeking manuscripts for publication in the AMERICAN JOURNAL
OF PRIMATOLOGY that deal with field studies and conservation of wild primate
populations. Now I’m beginning to understand why it is so difficult to find such manuscripts. This lack of naturalistic studies is not a desirable state, and it provides an
example of a discrepancy between the empirical balance of primatology and an ideal
balance. Because these field studies are of such great importance to basic primatology,
I will continue to encourage submission of high quality manuscripts reporting field
studies of primates.
I want t o acknowledge the valuable assistance of Dr. Anthony M. Coelho, Jr., in
preparing the abstracts of the presentations given a t the Fourth Meeting of the American Society of Primatologists. Dr. Coelho and his assistants did a marvelous job of
arranging and managing the 1981 meeting. Dr. Coelho was assisted on the Program
Committee by the following individuals: Ms. J o Fritz, Dr. Ken Green, Ms. Dorothy
Reese, Dr. Ramon Rhine, Dr. Meredith Small, and Dr. Walter Rogers; they must be
congratulated for presenting an excellent program.
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