We’ve got a little something different for you today—a new format we’ll be experimenting with over the next few months. You can think of it as a kind of “behind the paper” series. The idea is to take notable articles from the last year or so and talk to their authors. We’ll delve into each paper’s backstory, sketch its broader context, and dig up some of that fun stuff that just doesn’t get mentioned in a formal scientific write-up. We’ll still be doing our longform interviews as well, but we’ll be mixing in shorter ones in this style.
For this first installment we’re discussing a paper published in March of this year titled ‘Baboon thanatology’. It describes a truly startling behavior: when an infant baboon dies, it’s mother may carry its corpse around for days, sometimes a week or longer. She might continue to groom it or care for it in other ways. The paper is one of a raft of recent articles on how animals respond to death and dying. This new research area of “comparative thanatology” asks whether animals truly understand this basic bodily process, whether they grieve, whether they get that death is final and irreversible.
To talk about this deep stuff, I’m joined in this episode by not one but two of the study’s authors—Dr. Alecia Carter, who is a Lecturer in Evolutionary Anthropology at University College London and Dr. Elise Huchard, a CNRS Research Scientist at the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences, at the University of Montpellier.
Hope you enjoy this format. As always, let us know what you think. On to my conversation with Alecia and Elise. Enjoy!