A Different Kind of Handshake: Interview with Vanessa Woods

Vanessa Woods is a researcher with the Hominoid Psychology Research Group which recently moved to Duke University – just in time for her to be able to attend the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago. Vanessa is the author of four books (three of those are for kids, the latest one, It’s every monkey for themselves just got translated into Hebrew, and is aimed at adult audience). She is a feature writer for the Discovery Channel and she documents her research on her blog Bonobo Handshake (and what it means? Check the blog!)
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I’m mostly a writer, I’ve written several books for kids and recently a salacious non fiction about a bunch of monkey researchers in the Costa Rican jungle (banned in America for legal reasons, but you can get it online http://www.vanessawoods.net). For a few months a year I also travel to Congo to study our cousins, bonobos and chimpanzees. We work in sanctuaries for orphans, instead of in biomedical laboratories and basically play games with them all day to find out how
they think.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
JK Rowling
Can you tell us a little bit more about your research and about bonobos?
We’re trying to find out what it is that makes us human. At the moment, we have a very chimpanzee-centric model of society (male dominated, aggressive, murder, war, females get beaten, infants get killed) but we have another cousin, equally closely related to us (98.7% DNA), who is female dominated and lives in a much more peaceful society. We want to find out how much of us is bonobo, how much of us is chimpanzee and how much of us is uniquely human.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
Well of course I love the Intersection. Sheril is so cool…
Most bloggers post every day on a variety of topics and go on like that for years. Your approach is different. Your blog, Bonobo Handshake, was focused on your research trip to Congo. Once the trip was over and you wrote your conclusions, you did not continue updating every day. Yet, your blog really hit a note with a lot of people and your traffic soared. How do you explain it? What are the pros and cons of this blogging strategy?
I think people got really involved in the bonobo drama. Bonobos came in, nearly died, and recovered, and people became emotionally attached. Plus the bonobos are so crazy, i think people started showing up regularly just to see what would happen next.
What is next? Extension of Bonobo Handshake, a new blog, a new trip that begs to be blogged about?
We’ll be going back to Congo in June this year, so Bonobo Handshake will be up again.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you
think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I really enjoyed the ‘blogging for the 3rd world’ session. It raised some interesting questions about our role in bringing information into these countries. Most of my blogging function is to take the stories I see in Congo and bring them out. But I am interested in exploring how what I do can benefit them.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Likewise Bora – see you again soon!
Check out all the interviews in this series.


3 responses to “A Different Kind of Handshake: Interview with Vanessa Woods

  1. That’s such a great photo!
    The truth is Vanessa is the coolest! Maybe it rubs off when we hang out now 😉

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