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John Gluck still remembers the meeting, nearly a half-century ago, of his academic-journal club at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Gluck was a graduate student in the laboratory of Harry Harlow, the psychologist whose research on maternal deprivation in rhesus macaque monkeys would be celebrated for insights into human development and vilified for the suffering those monkeys endured. That afternoon Gluck’s club discussed a hot new paper from the lab of the psychologists Allen and Beatrix Gardner, who had taught a chimpanzee named Washoe to use American Sign Language.

The students debated whether or not sign language was, in fact, a real language. They dug into the nature of response and reinforcement, whether the chimp truly communicated with intent or just went through the motions. And then a student posed a different sort of question. What would happen if Washoe signed, “Let me out of here?”

“There was dead silence in the room,” recalls Gluck, now a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of New Mexico and senior adviser to the university’s president on animal-research ethics. It was a question that had never crossed the students’ minds, and it would stick in his own. “I began to think about this question. What is their moral standing? We know what they can do for us. So what kind of ethical treatment do we owe them?”

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The Chronicle of Higher Education

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