Leading article: Theories of relativity

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The Independent Online

It's been tough since at least 1859 for those who insist on the exclusive and invincibly superior nature of our species, and it's not getting any easier. Now we learn that we may have been rubbing along with chimpanzees in the closest possible way for four million years or so. This might make uncomfortable reading for some; others will wonder how the chimpanzees feel about it.

Luckily, there is progress here, too, as evidence has also emerged that monkeys can talk. West African putty monkeys use two main calls, which appear to mean something else entirely when strung together, a technique significantly similar to that employed by senior civil servants before select committees, and politicians on the Today programme.

You might wonder why it has taken so long to discover this shared talent. There are two principal reasons. The first is that most animals have prudently kept it to themselves, after observing that it's not much fun being a parrot. The second is that, typically, we always dismissed earlier reports out of a combination of arrogance, unease and a refusal to listen.

Now, though, it seems, enlightenment is here. Peterborough city council, for example, is introducing a course in dog barking, so that owners can tell what their pets want and so cut down on noise, although there has been a suggestion that more work is needed on distinguishing between the bark for "I am in urgent need of relief", and that for "postman".

Lastly, you might like to test your own state of evolution by measuring your react ion to this: "Doctor, I keep hearing animals talking." "Don't worry, you're just having Disney spells."