Adam's Reviews > Koko's Kitten

Koko's Kitten by Francine Patterson
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Sep 17, 2009

did not like it
bookshelves: nonfiction, childrens-books
Read in January, 1993

I originally rated this book five stars because it moved me to tears. Then I saw a couple of documentaries about Koko. It turns out that Dr. Francine "Penny" Patterson is an incompetent psychopath who doesn't know the first thing about primatology. She says things like, "I don't care what the critics say. I'm not 'humanizing' Koko, I'm peopleizing her." She also slaps a very young Koko in the face when she "misbehaves" (ie, acts like a gorilla and plays rough with Michael, another gorilla). Even the way she teaches her sign language is insane. You can't sign "water" while saying the word "water" and expect a gorilla to understand what that means. You need to model water for them in some way, show them water, give them water to drink, etc.

Also, Dr. Penny claims that since Koko's fingers can't make the same signs as people's, Koko doesn't do ASL, she does "GSL" (Gorilla sign language). What this actually means is Dr. Penny has total control of what Koko is saying, since she interprets it all herself. When Koko signs "pink," Dr. Penny claims that is the gorilla way of expressing shame. When Michael signs "black," then signs "red," Dr. Penny explains that he is telling of how black men (Africans) killed his family.

I have no doubt that Koko, Michael, and Ndume (the gorillas Dr. Penny "studied") are sensitive, intelligent creatures. However, the idea that they can communicate using sign language in a perfectly human, one-for-one speech relationship is insane. But Dr. Penny doesn't seem to realize that, or seem to realize that there might be any differences between gorillas and humans. Which is perhaps not surprising, since she has a degree in developmental psychology, not primatology. She treats Koko like the daughter she never had, and in the creepiest ways. For instance, she raises Koko and Michael to eventually be lovers and mate. When she learns (or intuits) that two gorillas raised together regard each other as brother and sister, and mating is not going to happen, she gets Koko involved with video dating and has Koko sign, based only on looking at male gorilla images on a TV, whether or not she likes the guy. Really? Don't gorillas react to ... I don't know ... scent, or personal interaction? Well, apparently they do, because Koko's potential mate Ndume and she haven't been hitting it off either. Oh, and why did she start video dating? Because when Dr. Penny was in her early 40s, Koko "signed to her that she wanted a baby." Really, Dr. Penny? Really?
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Ashley Kopustas I understand your frustrations with Dr. Patterson, but that shouldn't be relevant to the book itself.


message 2: by Adam (new) - rated it 1 star

Adam How are my frustrations with Dr. Patterson not relevant to the book itself? She wrote the book, and it's a propaganda piece for her shady work.


message 3: by Willis (last edited Nov 22, 2015 06:11AM) (new)

Willis Do WHEW!! After 40+ years of counterfeiting the program, it is great that an expert in primatology, such as yourself, finally has exposed this charlatan. At least you took time to research this psychopath’s techniques and to explain to us how to properly teach a primate how to sign “water”. How could this have gone so long without someone seeing it and how have these poor animals survived without using the correct sign for a drink of water. It is a miracle they are still alive.

Perhaps the Gorilla Foundation would hire you to contribute your expertise and training to right such a terrible wrong. They might refund all of the funding they have received while duping donors that never had any of their own researchers confirm the credibility of the Institute before passing out money.

And your computer dating summation confirms your expertise with primates and the way this technology is designed to work, too. Unbelievable.

We are just lucky you came along. Otherwise this fraud would have gone on for another 40+ years. The fact that they understand the communications of these animals is irrelevant to you and it is that kind of bias that helps to propagate true results in this field, which is your true goal in this critique.

Or is it just sour grapes…much ado about nothing? I’ve followed this group for decades and the fact that they can communicate with other animals is obvious and noteworthy. The sad thing is that they were never able to reproduce. That would have been an interesting bit of child development to behold.

And would you mind explaining how her actions rate her as a psychopath, please?


message 4: by Maria P Gates (new)

Maria P Gates I remember, years ago, the story of Koko and her kitten. It was in a paper my 6yr. old daughter brought home from school. She wanted to learn sign language for years afterwards, but no one was teaching it. It was a cute story, All the details you go into are irrelevant in the bigger picture. Thank you for your review, so I am now aware of all I missed. So glad!


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