Temple Grandin
December 18, 2006 9:18 PM   Subscribe

The Woman Who Thinks Like A Cow. A documentary about Temple Grandin (previously discussed here and here.) [Via MindHacks.]
posted by homunculus (42 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hm. Something to ruminate about.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:24 PM on December 18, 2006


mooving
posted by Pollomacho at 9:26 PM on December 18, 2006


She was the subject of a "First Person" episode by Errol Morris, a great series on Bravo about interesting people. In fact, I thought that one was far more interesting.
posted by ORthey at 9:28 PM on December 18, 2006


I'm sorry. We want a block of flats, not an abattoir.
posted by caddis at 9:31 PM on December 18, 2006


Thanks homunculus!
posted by vacapinta at 9:31 PM on December 18, 2006


Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is inarguably the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world.

Oh? How about Einstein (or does he not count)? Ok, how about evil credit card mastermind Andrew Kahr?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:45 PM on December 18, 2006


Wow. Thanks.
posted by luckypozzo at 10:52 PM on December 18, 2006


Always love your posts homunculus, thanks for this interesting video. I first read about Temple Grandin in the title article of An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks, based on Grandin's description of how she feels around 'neurotypical' people.

Oliver Sacks' wonderful books have helped me understand the world with new eyes, especially fascinating people like Temple Grandin and their part in the big picture.

Here's a page describing 'neurotypicality' (how people with high functioning autism/Asperger's Syndrome perceive people without that perspective).
posted by nickyskye at 11:40 PM on December 18, 2006


That was great. Thank You.
posted by spacelux at 12:19 AM on December 19, 2006


I'm a long-time admirer of Grandin (and Sacks).

I haven't read any of her other books, but Animals in Translation is amazing. Thanks for the post!
posted by trip and a half at 12:44 AM on December 19, 2006


Awesome - thanks homunculus. And what nickyskye said - you are consistently one of the best posters on mefi.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:54 AM on December 19, 2006


She invented the 'hug' machine.
posted by econous at 1:06 AM on December 19, 2006


I read Animals in Translation in hopes to understand why my old cat had started peeing on the floor. Grandin's trick is to get in the animals' heads, see things like them, and she takes advantage of her autism because, like the animals, she experiences the world in its particulars (she knows that animals are not comfortable in their untranslated world).

Anyway in attempting to diagnose my cat I just ended up crawling around and peeing on the floor. Now we have two problems. But a lot of fun!
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 3:30 AM on December 19, 2006


Udderly fascinating.
posted by EarBucket at 5:04 AM on December 19, 2006


I 'herd' her give a talk about 2 years ago. Very interesting. You look at her and think, yea, she's a cow in human form. I didn't watch the video, It may mention that she is autistic.
posted by allelopath at 5:57 AM on December 19, 2006


I differ with allelopath and do not think Temple Grandin is a cow in human form either to look at or as a person. She is an exceptionally articulate, scientific thinker, who happens to have highly functioning autism.

One of the traits of autism is an inability to comprehend others' emotions. This is a lack of empathy, not being able to emotionally stand in the other person's shoes. Pathological narcissists also have this inability to experience empathy but they are malicious with their deficit. Their disorder (NPD) is shame based. Autism is different, it's neurologically hardwired, not formed by abusive parenting or trauma. Highly functioning autists are usually ethical, sincere people.

Asperger wrote, "The autist is only himself and is not an active member of a greater organism which he is influenced by and which he influences constantly." But Temple Grandin has transcended that in her work, impacting the lives of many, the animals and the people dealing with cattle in particular.

Approximately 20 to 40 out of every 10,000 are diagnosed with autism and disorders "on the spectrum" (about 1 to 1.5 million in the USA) . One of the interesting things about the video homunculus links is the story of two scientists in the early 1940's, Asperger and Kanner, who did not know each other, both researching children with this disorder and both choosing the exact same name, autistic, which had been coined by Bleuler in 1911.

Borat's second cousin (well, the second cousin of Sacha Baron-Cohen), whose name is Simon Baron-Cohen, is a pioneering clinical psychologist studying those on the autism spectrum.
posted by nickyskye at 7:50 AM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the fuss. She builds slaughterhouses. What's to admire in that?
posted by cmonkey at 9:19 AM on December 19, 2006


HOLY CRAP, nickyskye! Simon Baron-Cohen and Sacha Baron-Cohen are related? I never even thought to check, I've just been getting them confused in my head for months now. (Along with Sasha Cohen, the figure skater.) That is a crazy connection. You just boggled my mind.
posted by cacophony at 9:53 AM on December 19, 2006


I don't understand the fuss. She builds slaughterhouses. What's to admire in that?

She endeavours to ensure that the animals experience as little fear, pain and stress as possible. As long as people are going to eat meat, the animals should be treated as humanely as possible, and Temple Grandin has had an enormous effect on that goal. But really, what's to admire in that?
posted by biscotti at 10:31 AM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh? How about Einstein (or does he not count)?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:45 PM PST on December 18


Einstein wasn't autistic, for one.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:05 PM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Isn’t that a hoot cacophony? Never realized there was an ice skater with a similar name. Funny. Simon Baron-Cohen made a splash over the last few years with his theories about male and female brains in relation to autism, discussed previously here.

An article by Simon in the New York Times, called The Male Condition.

It has been speculated that Einstein and others had Asperger's syndrome.

Dr. Temple Grandin hasn't helped only animals with her innovative inventions. By articulating the details of what it's like to be autistic, she's helped other people struggling with autism find ways to deal with their issues. She's also helped the family, caregivers and friends of autists to understand the condition.
posted by nickyskye at 12:15 PM on December 19, 2006


No, I don't see anything admirable in assisting an industry founded on pain to whitewash the fact that cows are shot in the head repeatedly with a bolt before their throats are slit while they're still alive. Ooh, but they went through a twisty shoot beforehand! An autistic person made a baseless assertion that they're happy now! That makes it OK!

Yes, it's true that she tries to reduce stress in slaughterhouses, but she's not working to reduce animal suffering, she's working to improve the slaughter industry's bottom line. I mean, jeez, just read any of the research papers she's published. Like she says on her web page, "gentle handling in well-designed facilities will minimize stress levels, improve efficiency and maintain good meat quality." Well, OK, I guess if the twisty shoot will maintain meat quality, then it's cool.

Temple Grandin may have a wonderful insight into the lucrative world of self-promotion, but it's pretty clear that she's not an admirable defender of animals.
posted by cmonkey at 12:22 PM on December 19, 2006


Her essay on NPR's This I Believe series was fascinating.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 1:04 PM on December 19, 2006


Fascinating video and person. Thank you!
posted by owhydididoit at 5:29 PM on December 19, 2006


Einstein wasn't autistic, for one.

I'm not sure everyone would agree with you on that.

There is however, one area of visualization I am poor in. I often fail to recognize faces until I have known a person for a long time. This sometimes causes social problems, because I sometimes don't respond to an acquaintance because I fail to recognize them. Einstein was a visual thinker who failed his high school language requirement and relied on visual methods of study ((Holton, 1971-1972). The theory of relativity was based on visual imagery of moving boxcars and riding on light beams. At an autism meeting I had the opportunity to visit some of Einstein's relatives. His family history has a high incidence of autism, dyslexia, food allergies, giftedness, and musical talent. Einstein himself had many autistic traits. An astute reader can find them in Einstein and Einstein (1987) and Lepscky (1982).

An Inside View of Autism an essay by Temple Grandin, PhD
posted by Pollomacho at 6:07 PM on December 19, 2006


I've attended a Grandin lecture and met her in person.

She makes no bones about this: she is not a typical autistic. She is, for starters, very high-functioning, capable of introspection and expression well beyond that of most autistics (and, for that matter, most people).

It was fascinating to get a glimpse of how she thinks only in pictures. She spent a good bit of time talking about that, and her A/V aides were all visual/pictorial, usually with no obvious connection to what she was going to say (they were to prompt her memory more than inform us.)
posted by five fresh fish at 6:21 PM on December 19, 2006


I'm with cmonkey.

From the last time we were going on about the wonderful work of Temple Grandin: she gets hired not because slaughterhouses give a damn about animals' feelings, but because they want to run more efficiently and kill more animals in less time. Really, what is to admire in that?

Please also read at that link about her "showpiece" slaughternouse causing one of the largest and most damning meat recalls in US history, so I don't have to type it all over again.
posted by soyjoy at 7:51 PM on December 19, 2006


she gets hired not because slaughterhouses give a damn about animals' feelings, but because they want to run more efficiently and kill more animals in less time.

Obviously that's why they hire her. That doesn't preclude her motivation being different from theirs.
posted by atrazine at 8:50 PM on December 19, 2006


I'm not sure everyone would agree with you on that.

Diagnosing Einstein with autism after his death, and in spite of the overwhelming evidence against it, is akin to Frist's diagnosis of Terri Schiavo as just having mild indigestion. His credentials don't change the facts.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:51 PM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Obviously that's why they hire her. That doesn't preclude her motivation being different from theirs.

No, really, atrazine, read her papers.

"Geneticists and producers must work together to produce pigs which are easy to handle. Genetically nervous pigs which have been raised in finishing pens where nobody has walked the pens may be extremely difficult to handle at the plant. Quiet handling at the slaughter plant will improve pork quality and reduce PSE. ["pale, soft, and exudative", but I don't know what it really means -cmonkey] The last 15 minutes in the stunning is the most critical time. Geneticists need to select pigs which have a calm temperament and strong bone. One must be careful not to over select for a single trait. There can be strange interactions of traits. When the poultry industry solved their leg problems in large breasted birds, a new weird trait emerged. Heavily muscled roosters with strong legs and lower death losses are very aggressive and sometimes kill breeder hens."

(From the conclusions of her paper "Handling Pigs for Optimum Performance on the Farm and in the Slaughter Plant")

Yeah, she really sounds like she's doing it for the animals.

How about this, from "Effect of Rearing Environment and Environmental Enrichment on the Behavior of Neural Development of Young Pigs", her doctoral dissertation:

"Will simple, inexpensive methods of environmental enrichment such as objects or extra contact with people have beneficial effects on the animals' well-being? One aim of the research reported in this thesis was to answer these and other questions as they pertain to the pig.

A second aim was to determine if environmental enrichment would have beneficial effects on productivity and handling behavior. Animals which move easily during handling at the meat packing plant will be less likely to get bruised or have stress induced meat quality problems.

A third aim was to quantify the pig's interactions with environmental enrichment objects and determine if environmental enrichment would reduce fighting in newly mixed pigs."


OK, great, 1 out of 3 goals includes the pig's well-being. Unfortunately, it's only so that the pig won't end up having "stress induced meat quality problems". Now, if she's worried, as a doctoral candidate, about meat quality problems...I think we can safely discount the quaint notion that she hopes to reduce suffering for an altruistic reason.

And this is where people get misled by her. Yes, she is somewhat concerned about the welfare of the animals being led off to the slaughterhouse. But it isn't because she cares about the animals, it's because it helps the slaughterhouses make more money by "maintaining meat quality".
posted by cmonkey at 9:40 PM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


So? What is more likely to cause slaughterhouses to actually give a shit about making the animals better off before they're killed, altruism or because it makes for higher quality meat?
posted by Silentgoldfish at 10:11 PM on December 19, 2006


Obviously slaughterhouses only care about their profit margin, yeah, we all get that.

You must have missed the part where I was talking about Temple Grandin's motivations, not the slaughterhouses. You know, the autistic woman, the woman who has a neurodevelopment disorder that generally keeps people with the disorder from being clever masterminds at advancing an agenda by dressing it up in terms that appeal to slaughterhouse profit margins. Based on her very vocal claims of being autistic, we can assume that her papers speak clearly about her motivations.

I still have yet to see any reason to admire her any more than one would admire the person who designed the veal fattening pen or the person who came up with the idea of sticking a tube into a bear's gall bladder to get the bile.
posted by cmonkey at 11:13 PM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Coming into this late. NPR's Science Friday had a segment with Temple Grandin about a year ago.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:10 AM on December 20, 2006


cmonkey, read "An Anthropologist on Mars", by Oliver Sacks. The chapter for which the book is titled is about Temple Grandin. In it, she speaks outside of an academic context, and it's quite clear that she /does/ care very much about how the animals feel.
posted by Stove at 4:01 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


She cares for how they feel. She does not care about their fate.

And frankly, given that I'm not immune to eating the odd bit of beef here or there, I can't say as I show any sign of caring about their fate, either.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:27 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


In it, she speaks outside of an academic context, and it's quite clear that she /does/ care very much about how the animals feel.

Yes, it's well established that she has built her career on caring about how animals feel. That is a hugely different thing than "caring about animals". A single chapter in an book written for the general public doesn't hold a lot of weight when put up against everything else she has written during her career.

But hey, go ahead and cling to your fantasy of an autistic cow woman who is brimming with empathy for animals and only concerned about the "quality of their meat" because she's coldly calculated a way to make arguably negligible animal welfare gains in the slaughterhouses that kill her oh-so-beloved animals.
posted by cmonkey at 6:09 PM on December 20, 2006


A single chapter in an book written for the general public doesn't hold a lot of weight when put up against everything else she has written during her career.

Why should it have to? The papers you are referring to, as pointed out by Silentgoldfish, are intended to persuade the slaughterhouse industry. An Anthropologist on Mars, being about Grandin herself, was a more appropriate context to discuss her personal motivations.

Here are some excerpts:

"I got to love my enriched pigs," she said. "I was very attached. I was so attached I couldn't kill them." The animals had to be sacrificed at the end of the experiment so their brains could be examined. She described how the pigs, at the end, trusting her, let her lead them on their last walk, and how she had calmed them, by stroking them and talking to them, while they were killed. She was very distressed at their deaths--"I wept and wept."
--
"That's not a happy cow," Temple said. "That's one sad, unhappy, upset cow. She wants her baby. Bellowing for it, hunting for it. She'll forget for a while, then start again. It's like grieving, mourning--not much is written about it. People don't like to allow them thoughts or feelings. Skinner wouldn't allow them."
As an undergraduate in New Hampshire, she had written to B. F. Skinner, the great behaviorist, and finally she had visited him. "It was like having an audience with God," she said. "It was a letdown. He was just a regular human being. He said, 'We don't have to know how the brain works--it's just a matter of conditioned reflexes.' No way
I could believe it was just stimulus-response." The Skinner era, Temple concluded, was one that denied feelings to animals and rationalized regarding them as automata; it was an era of exceptional cruelty, both in animal experimentation and in the management of farms and slaughterhouses. She had read somewhere that behaviorism was an uncaring science, and this was exactly how she herself felt about it. Her own aspiration was to bring a vivid sense of animals' feelings back into husbandry.
Seeing the grieving cow and hearing the bereft bellows angered Temple and turned her mind toward inhumanities in slaughter. She had nothing to do with chickens, she said, but the killing of chickens was particularly loathsome. "When it's time for chickens to go to McNuggetland, they pick 'em up, hang 'em upside down, cut their throats." A similar shackling of cattle, and hanging them upside down so that the blood rushes to their heads before their throats are cut, is a common sight in old kosher slaughterhouses, she said. "Sometimes their legs get broken, they scream in pain and terror." Mercifully, such practices are now starting to change. Properly performed, "slaughter is more humane than nature," she went on. "Eight seconds after the throat's cut, endorphins are released; the animal dies without pain. It is similar in nature, after sheep have been ripped up by coyotes. Nature has done this to ease the pain of a dying animal." What is terrible, the more so because it is avoidable, she feels, is pain and cruelty, the introduction of fear and stress before the lethal cutting; and it is this that she is most concerned to prevent. "I want to reform the meat industry. The activists want to shut it down," she said, and added, "I don't like radical anything, left or right. I have a radical dislike of radicals."

posted by Stove at 7:42 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


So I suppose that "A note on hair whorl position and cattle temperament in the auction ring" is intended to persuade the slaughterhouse industry to ... what? Buy cows that they can more easily shove into the chute?

And goodness, research on bull fertility sure will go a long ways towards improving the lives of animals headed for slaughter. No, wait, it'll just make the lives of the cattle men more profitable.

Hey yet another article on hair whorls. And another one.

This is a pretty pointless debate. I will never be able to agree that someone who spends so much time trying to help the slaughterhouses breed more animals to kill is motivated out of a love for those animals.
posted by cmonkey at 8:36 PM on December 20, 2006


Nature has done this to ease the pain of a dying animal. What an odd thing for her to say. I didn't think nature had motives.
posted by econous at 9:24 PM on December 20, 2006


The excerpt above pretty much proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Grandin's motivations are altruistic. Her goal is to reform the meat industry so that animals raised for slaughter are treated humanely rather than cruelly. Considering how well she has succeeded, she certainly ought to be admired by someone who is passionate about animal rights.


In response to soyjoy's comments on the other thread: I could find no indication that Grandin had any affiliation with the ConAgra plant at the time of the scandals. It seems unlikely that the ConAgra plant and the "showpiece" plant are even the same one.
I did, however, find this (pdf), in which Grandin is quoted reviewing a video of animal cruelty in another ConAgra slaughterhouse.
posted by Stove at 9:38 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I could find no indication that Grandin had any affiliation with the ConAgra plant at the time of the scandals.

Her involvement, having to do with the design of a slaughter system, would have its effect not while she was there, "affiliated" with the plant, but afterward, when, as it turned out, this ongoing USDA violation and assocated recall came to pass.

It seems unlikely that the ConAgra plant and the "showpiece" plant are even the same one.

Same plant. The Greeley, Colorado plant of ConAgra-cum-Swift. It's described in the same terms, same location, in both stories. If you have information to the contrary, bring it up.
posted by soyjoy at 11:41 PM on December 27, 2006


Mm-hm. Thought not.
posted by soyjoy at 10:22 AM on January 14, 2007


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