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13 Nov. 2006
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The No Cukes Movement

As often happens, an article, laden with significance and import, will appear in the Wall Street Journal.  The article to which I am referring appeared just last Friday, in a Science Journal article by Sharon Begley.  It covered in some detail the subject of "fairness."  A classic experiment:  A scientist gives me $10, but I have to offer you some of it and you have to accept the offer or neither of us keeps any.  Logically, you would accept anything, since it's more than you have now.  But if I don't offer you at least a third or so, you'll perceive it as "unfair" and turn it down and I won't get anything, either.  (Some of my friends would insist on 90%.  Fortunately they are rarely lured into the laboratory.)

Well, it turns out that "fairness" is not a solely human concept.  As experimenters get more clever, they find that a surprisingly large number of what were thought to be human attributes apply to other animals as well.  This article described how it was established that capuchin monkeys had a sense of fair play.  Although most would consider the result as the important part, I focused on the experimental protocol itself.  But first, this composite conversation:


Good evening, Monsieur, I am Garcon your waiter, have you decided what to order?
Yes, I shall test the jellied newt for my appetizer, and prefer the house salad.
Certainly.  What kind of dressing would you like?
I'll have the thousand island, or the Russian if that's what you call it.  Does the salad have cucumbers?
Yes sir, it does!
I prefer my salad 100% cucumber-free.  I'm a member of the No Cukes movement, you know!


You've heard, no doubt, about the "No Newts" movement, but probably not of the "No Cukes" movement.  Not only does it exist; I am its embodiment.  I often sustain ridicule and derision for my stance, but I am now in a position to prove that it is scientifically sound, thanks to the aforementioned article.

Capuchins, too, know unfairness when they see it.  They prefer grapes to cucumbers, and when a scientist gave a grape to one capuchin and a cucumber to another, the latter threw it onto the ground and stalked away rather than acquiesce to this injustice.

I, at least, am more genteel than that!  Should the waiter fail to bring me deleted cucumbers, I will, in democratic fashion, attempt to trade them with other denizens of the dinner table.  I especially favor large chunks of tomato.  But, failing that, I don't give in to my perfectly natural temptation to throw them on the ground, and I instead place the cucumbers to the side, that I may deflect any ridicule and/or derision on to them.

In a series of experiments, the animals learned to trade a token with a trainer for food.  If they saw a cagemate trade for a delectable grape, but were offered a cucumber in exchange for their own token, they were much more likely to refuse to hand it over for the stupid vegetable.  (Emphasis supplied.)

I hardly need to elaborate.  If the existence of the No Cukes Movement itself is insufficient, I present this endorsement by none other than the august Wall Street Journal, and the Science column at that, to prove the nobility of our cause.


Waiter!  Waiter!  There's a cucumber in my soup!
No surprise, sir, the NAACC has had it in for you ever since they read your blog.

2006
Richard Factor

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