What chimps understand about keeping secrets that Donald Trump doesn't.

Recently, we learned that President Trump is not very good at keeping secrets.

According to a bombshell Washington Post report, in the course of bragging about how cool his job is, the president revealed highly classified "code word" intelligence to Russian officials visiting the White House.

Oops. Photo by Michael Reynols-Pool/Getty Images.


Most people would know not to do this.

In fact, you probably wouldn't even need to be a person in the White House to keep America's national security secrets safe. A reasonably competent nonverbal mammal could probably pull it off — and an animal president would come with a lot of advantages. No Twitter! No press conferences! We could pay them in food!

But which animal?

I wanted answers. More importantly, I wanted a Plan B for America.

Is there an animal that would be better at keeping secrets than the current president of the United States? And how quickly could John Roberts make that animal swear on a Bible?

The surprising, I-kid-you-not, possible secret-keeping savior species? Chimpanzees.

Photo by Guillame Souvant/Getty Images.

According to a 2015 study, chimpanzees can actually determine who it's important to hide information from.

Researcher Katja Karg of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, discovered that the great apes are able to identify individuals seeking to do them harm, and they are cautious enough to conceal information from them accordingly.

"Chimpanzees understand others' intentions, and they can adjust their behaviour to these intentions by flexibly manipulating what they make visible to others," lead researcher Karg told the BBC in 2015.

Researchers exposed 24 chimps to competitive humans, who would steal food from their cages, and cooperative humans, who would pick it up and feed it to them.

They discovered the chimps were more likely to keep food hidden in the presence of competitors and not say, for example, "Hey, we've got great food. The best food. The most delicious chocolate cake you've ever seen. Let me show you exactly where it is."

The experiment concluded that the chimps are able to selectively, intentionally deceive — and not just because they don't talk.

The key to chimpanzees' ability to keep secrets? They are able to distinguish between friend and foe on a very basic level.

Like, for example, the difference between the leader of an allied and long-term partner nation...

Photo by Saul Loeb/Getty Images.

...and a couple of guys who (probably) lied about the reason they brought cameras into your office.

Russian Foreign Ministry. Photo via AP.

Once the chimps make the distinction between friend and foe, they are able to adjust their strategy — hiding resources from individuals out to get them, while sharing with those who are friendly.

You know.

Basic stuff.

Which raises the question: Is it time to oust Trump and install a great ape in the Oval Office?

Not so fast, it turns out.

"They are not very good at [keeping secrets]," Karg told the BBC, of her chimps' performance in the experiment. "You can help them by giving them some way to distract themselves."

In some ways, perhaps they're not so different from our current president after all.

That said, what would be the harm in giving Mr. Bananas a few weeks to call the shots?

Photo by Andreas Solaro/Getty Images.

Could things really get any weirder than they already are?

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less