Animals are people too.

Or so says National Geographic-profiled biopsychologist Lori Marino, an expert in the brains of “lesser” animals:

Formerly a full-fledged research scientist who found measuring the braincases of dolphin skulls utterly absorbing, Marino has become a self-described “scientist-advocate” for all animals, large and small.

While she’s continuing to do research (for instance, she’s doing a comparative study of pig and dog intelligence), she’s also devoting herself full time to the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, which she founded four years ago. It’s the only organization, she says, that is solely dedicated to bridging the gap between the academic world and the animal advocacy movement.

“Just look at the case with Tommy,” she says, referring to the chimpanzee whom the Nonhuman Rights Project attempted to free last December. Tommy’s lawyer, Steven Wise, had argued that New York State’s habeas corpus provision should apply to this chimpanzee “petitioner” too.

“It’s true, the judge ruled against Wise,” Marino says, “but he did so in a way that allows an appeal. That’s huge. And the case really hinged on the science.”

At one point in the proceedings, after Wise declared that chimpanzees are autonomous beings, the judge interrupted him abruptly. “Says who?” he demanded.

Wise responded by producing a stack of affidavits Marino had gathered from the world’s leading primatologists, testifying to chimpanzees’ cognitive abilities and sense of self. The judge’s dismissive tone changed.

“He got it,” says Marino. “That’s the power of science.”

She took a breath. “You know, Tommy is sitting there in that basement. He’s all alone in the dark in the most disgusting cage. If I think about him too much, I’ll go mad.”

Marino often counseled such students on how to continue in their chosen field without having to do invasive research, and she plans to do the same thing at Kimmela via the Someone Not Something Project. It has raised the funds to provide students with grant money to do such things as cognition research on domesticated animals at shelters and sanctuaries, and Marino will evaluate their proposals.

“But it must be good science, not just nicey-nicey. It must be methodologically very strong; otherwise we undermine ourselves.”