Science Book a Day Interviews Dennis Meredith

Special thanks to Dennis Meredith for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Solomon’s Freedom

Dennis Meredith’s career as a science communicator has included service at some of the country’s leading research universities, including MIT, Caltech, Cornell, Duke and the Universities of Rhode Island and Wisconsin. He has worked with science journalists at all the nation’s major newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV networks and has written well over a thousand news releases and magazine articles on science and engineering over his career. – From Dennis’ Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for Solomon’s Freedom?

I’d been learning of new research showing that chimpanzees are not only more intelligent than previously believed, but have culture like humans. And I’d heard of efforts to gain chimps “legal personhood,” which would enable them to live fulfilled lives. But the greatest influence on the
novel was the time I spent hanging out (pun intended) with the chimpanzees at Ohio State University, where primatologist Sally Boysen was exploring their ability to learn mathematical concepts. It was profoundly inspiring to see how bright and personable these chimps were. In fact, the human characters in the novel are named after her chimps.

#2 – Could you describe the level of detail to which we can currently communicate with chimpanzees?

It’s primitive, compared to what I describe in the novel. Apes have been taught to use sign language and simple visual lexigram displays to communicate. They have been able to use these to communicate basic ideas. However, there has never been a research project in which a chimpanzee like Solomon has been intensively taught from infancy over decades to learn and communicate more complex concepts, using the rich medium of the touch-screen computer.

#3 – Are biologically engineered hearts a reality?

Scientists are currently developing the ability to engineer heart tissue, working toward growing a biologically engineered heart. And I believe they will eventually achieve that goal, but it is many years away. I list some of the articles describing the research in the resources for the book at .

#4 – With advancements in medicine and primatology, do you think court cases like this are inevitable?

They are, in fact, already underway. The Nonhuman Rights Project [] cited in the book has brought lawsuits in several cases to gain legal personhood for chimpanzees.

#5 – Are you working on any projects/books you could tell us about?

My new novel, The Cerulean’s Secret, [] is a science thriller set in 2050, when genomic technology has enabled the rise of a lucrative industry creating genetically engineered pets. These include exotic crosses, like cogs, dats, snurtles, and hamakeets. But the most sensational new animal is the Cerulean cat, with its mesmerizing, iridescent blue fur. The cat, which would have fetched a huge price from a collector or corporation, is catnapped. Swept up in the crime is a naïve young wanna-be writer, Timothy Boatright. And in a series of harrowing adventures, he sets out to solve the mystery of the cat’s disappearance.

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