Thursday, December 15, 2005

God, Schmod. I want my monkey-man!

Since Peter Jackson's King Kong remake is about to become an international phenomenon, I may as well jump on the bandwagon by linking to this fascinating article on a now-forgotten incident that the author thinks may have influenced the making of the original:
In the mid-1920s, the culture wars were dominated - as they are today with "intelligent design" - by the debate between creationism and evolutionary thinking. In 1925, John T. Scopes had been found guilty of teaching that mankind arose from something other than divine creation. But the United States was not the only country passionate about the issue. The young Soviet Union, in its effort to stamp out religion, was determined to prove that men were descended from apes. In 1926, a Soviet scientist named Ilya Ivanov decided the most compelling way to do this would be to breed a humanzee: a human-chimpanzee hybrid.

Ivanov set off for a French research station in West Africa. There he inseminated three female chimpanzees with human sperm. Not his own, for he shared the colonial-era belief that the local people were more closely related to apes than he was. He stayed long enough to learn that his experiment had failed.

Next Ivanov wrote a Cuban heiress, Rosalia Abreu. Abreu was the first person to breed chimps in captivity and had a large menagerie outside Havana. Ivanov asked if any of her male chimpanzees might be available to inseminate a Russian volunteer known to posterity only as "G."
A extraordinary cast of characters (including the New York Times, the KKK, and, eventually, Stalin) ended up preventing Ivanov from ever pulling off the experiment--which we now know wouldn't have worked anyway--but it makes for an interesting story. Be sure to read the whole thing.

Anyway, the "culture war" aspect of the story seems to me to be a less interesting parallel to today's events than the kind of advances scientists have begun to make in splicing human DNA together with that of animals. I mean, we may yet see a "humanzee."

Oh, crap...

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