It’s been just two days and already there is stiff competition for Sex In the Sea to remain my favorite science book of 2016. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is a sweeping review of the often awkward methods scientists have used through the years to assess the intelligence of animals (non-human animals, that is, since humans are animals too!), and how evolutionary biologists, using more modern approaches, are changing the perception of animals as essentially dumb. There is the too-small mirror that “proves” that elephants cannot recognize their reflections — but they can, if the mirror is 8 feet tall! There are crows who congratulate fledglings after a successful flight. Apes that play subtle political games that would put our politicians to shame. Chimps that perform flawlessly on many trials, then get tired of the exercise and clearly show the experimenters that they could continue with the task, but they are just too bored with it. Another chimp that can remember dozens of digits (humans can manage 5-7). Wolves that follow humans’ hand gestures, but only if raised by humans (otherwise they figure out the tasks independently!)
The stories are entertaining but also deeply endearing.