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Data Mining Moves To Human Resources

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the incrementing-your-workplace-post-count dept.

Math 262

theodp writes "Just when you thought annual reviews couldn't get worse, BusinessWeek reports that HR departments at companies like Microsoft and IBM are starting to use mathematical analysis to determine the value of each employee. At an undisclosed Internet company, analysis of (non-verbal) communications was used to produce a circle to represent each employee — those determined to generate or pass along valuable info were portrayed as large and dark-colored circles ('thought leaders' and 'networked curators'), while those with small and pale circles were written off as not adding a hell of a lot. 'You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people,' explains Microsoft's Rupert Bader. Hey, who could argue with what Quants did for finance?"

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IBM (3, Insightful)

Samschnooks (1415697) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199409)

Doesn't surprise me. IBM is the company that measures programmer productivity with KLOCs - thousands of lines of code.

That's why their stuff is so bloated and slow.

The whole premise is bullshit. (4, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199747)

Number crunching, a staple for decades in the quantifiable domains of engineering and finance, has spread in recent years into marketing and sales.

Engineering only works because you still have people vetting the numbers. However, even there, there are problems that you just need a human opinion, because the engineers can't figure it out. One example - engineers called in to calculate how much you can cut a pile of earth back without shoring it up. None of them got within 50% of the actual number derived by subsequent tests. The solution is simple - call someone in whose work is excavating, and they'll give you a more accurate answer just by eyeballing.

Bottom line: If your boss doesn't know how much your're contributing to the company, then your boss is deadwood and should be fired. No need for statistical analysis to replace common sense (which is what created the toxic CDOs and SIVs, etc)... but the deadwood boss will like this, because now it's not their job to know what you do any more - they can point to a chart.

Short any company using this method.

Re:The whole premise is bullshit. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27200177)


You obviously don't know many Mining or Civil engineers!

That sort of stuff is their bread and butter.

As for the deadwood boss crap, I have never met a useless idiot who thought they were a useless idiot. For some strange reason they get upset if you call them stupid, even if you have proof.
Now it comes down to the definition of useless idiot and there is a good chance your boss has a different view than you.

There is however a real problem in quantifying employee value that is summed up nicely in the old saying -
If you can't measure it, you can't control it. If you do measure it, it will be manipulated.

Now just tell me what you are measuring again....

Re:IBM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199793)

[citation needed]

Not necessarily bad thing (2, Interesting)

ultrabot (200914) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199429)

Often, the problem with companies is that information doesn't get spread around. People work on their own projects in secret, never bothering to spread their knowledge. Perhaps this will urge some of the those to pay some attention to being useful for other employees as well, as opposed to just getting their own little project done.

Re:Not necessarily bad thing (4, Insightful)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199639)

It's as likely to encourage people to cc everyone and their cousin, or other silly tactics to game the metrics.

gaming the metrics (1)

High On Markers (1494339) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199831)

That was my first thought, too, Clover Kicker. Especially if the metric becomes hated. I wonder if there may be ways around that though, with a well-done staff orientation about the intention behind the metric (what kind of behaviour is it recognizing/promoting and what will that do for the company). Sometimes if you appeal to people's integrity it (amazingly) can work. Also, some kind of cross checking would be needed, to make sure the metric is not just being implemented mindlessly.

Re:Not necessarily bad thing (5, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199845)

Subject: Good luck

Close your eyes and imagine a well. Then imagine yourself tossing a coin into the well. Now forward this message to at least 5 of your friends within the company and HR will reward you with elevated quanta metrics and a payrise.

Re:Not necessarily bad thing (2, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200041)

"It's as likely to encourage people to cc everyone and their cousin, or other silly tactics to game the metrics."

It will demand, not encourage, such behavior. I have no problem with that since I have no moral obligation to care about stupid or malicious employers. This system needs to be compromised so people can best craft traffic to exploit it.

Yes it is... (3, Insightful)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199705)

There's a huge and erroneous misconception that centralization makes a corporation more efficient. I think centralization is a cancer. How often do mergers actually work? How often do governments actually execute well. The biggest failing of the free enterprise system as of late, is that, after hearing all of this about how government is inherently wasteful and inefficient and choked with slackers, that corporations set themselves to be operated just like governments. Just look at the result!

The fact of the matter is, that the thing that matters most in any corporation is time to market. It doesn't matter if you are centralized and more "efficient" if it takes you two years longer to ship a late product out the door, because while your smaller competitors were signing stuff and building things, your own design was going through committees and signoffs to make sure that you weren't doing what someone else already did.

Like, the stupidest thing GM ever did was to try and share so much data across so many divisions. What they should have done is just run each different division as a separate company, responsible for one thing - the bottom line. If they don't produce, then close them down. But instead, they have a huge corporate system that makes it very difficult for them to bring a new car design to market. And, by the time they get there, what started out as an award winning design is so late that they get slammed for making a mediocre product by the trade magazines first and the consumers second. All that's left of that company is Bob Lutz heroically pushing through car designs, but once he's gone (he's retiring), that company is screwed.

I think the larger story is, really, that management education in the United States is a colossal failure. There is no reason that a large and previously successful company needs to decline and fail when other civilizations created empires and institutions that lasted for hundreds and thousands of years. But as it is, in America, as soon as a founder leaves a company, the MBAs get in and these "professional managers" slowly sink the ship. It doesn't have to be this way, but it will be this way until we get some serious curriculum changes at our management schools.


Re:Yes it is... (3, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200229)

There's a huge and erroneous misconception that centralization makes a corporation more efficient. I think centralization is a cancer. (...) The fact of the matter is, that the thing that matters most in any corporation is time to market. It doesn't matter if you are centralized and more "efficient" if it takes you two years longer to ship a late product out the door, because while your smaller competitors were signing stuff and building things, your own design was going through committees and signoffs to make sure that you weren't doing what someone else already did.

Let's try with a little IT analogy (shocking, I know). The "everyone do their own little thing" are the dreaded small VBA applications hacked up in Excel that have no architecture, no signoffs and just pop up all over the place. Or the IT networks where companies are on five different versions of Office and Exchange in a million configurations all running on wildly different hardware and environments depending on what the local IT guru at the time found at Best Buy. I've been in projects where we gathered up the investments being done in all the different business units and realized several of them were working on projects for the same thing because noone had any idea what the others were doing.

On the other hand, I've also been where using an unapproved application or making a configuration required sign-offs to make the Vogons proud. I haven't been that much into beurocratic application development but I'm sure there's places you go crazy over trying to get a change through the archtiectural review subcomittee to get the interface in the common corporate component toolkit changed. Funamentally it's the same challenge the MBAs have, how much should we have a central control and how much should we let everyone do their own thing. It's easy to be an armchair MBA and think you got all the answers because you don't see the actual implications. I'm sure there's many MBAs that think they'd make great IT policy too.

Re:Yes it is... (1, Redundant)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200287)

"run each different division as a separate company, responsible for one thing - the bottom line. If they don't produce, then close them down. "

You are no better than the environment you disqualify. Both of you are members of the "see this complex problem? it's not complex but simple and here you have the solution for 100% of the cases" brotherhood. Your solution fails on the locale optimum side and it is visible at all levels. With your proposal you are guaranteed to never look for projects with returns of benefits outside your division scope, exactly as current corporate culture avoids for the most part projects that go far beyond next quarter.

It is said so many times it's boring but a company's best asset is people, specially while despite being said so many times management always seem to benefit "machinery" above people to cover their asses. If you put your focus on local optimus you'll lose a lot on sinergies; if you only look for far reaching goals day-to-day bussiness will take you out the game and it makes *people* to properly judge a situation and find the most profitting middle ground.

Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (5, Insightful)

meist3r (1061628) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199437)

In which you measure the derived value of employees and sell those as part of your stock portfolio. Then a ratings agency gives you a denominated value for your most productive employees and you re-sell those.

I believe quantifying employee "importance" by the number of email conversations they had and who read what they wrote is pretty silly. Soon they'll fire all their network admins because they all are represented by small-ish pale circles that usually reside in some dark basement bureau.

Can business get any more dehumanizing? I don't think so. I at least wouldn't want to work at a company like that. From TFA:

"You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people," says Rupert Bader, director of workforce planning at Microsoft

Can you say fucking stupid, kids? Humans are not machines (at least not yet), they have bad days and bad weeks and some have bad decades (imagine your child dies). Evaluating them through "rigorous" methodological measures is pure idiocy.

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (1)

hemorex (1013427) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199487)

I believe quantifying employee "importance" by the number of email conversations they had and who read what they wrote is pretty silly.

Henceforth, I am no longer flirting with my female coworkers; I am simply garnering importance.

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199521)

I hope they pay attention to what's in those emails. It sounds like circulating a joke of the day will give me job security. And better start planning lots of meetings, then cancel them at the last minute with a note to forward the cancellation on to all the other invitees.

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (0)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199577)

Can you say fucking stupid, kids? Humans are not machines (at least not yet), they have bad days and bad weeks and some have bad decades (imagine your child dies). Evaluating them through "rigorous" methodological measures is pure idiocy.

From the company's point of view, if you're having a "bad decade", you're probably not of much use to them. As dehumanizing and cynical as it sounds, companies exist to make a profit, and if you're not serving that function or are not somehow contractually bound to them, then you don't have a place there. Don't jump on a sound bite and delegate the whole process to "fucking stupid". They're not just blindly looking at email patterns. Done sensibly, I would rather have a series of thoughtful quantitative measures (I said thoughtful, not KLOCs or email centrality) to back up my job performance than have my future depend on the whims of a possibly irrational boss. How many people have lost jobs because their boss was having a bad day, or a bad week?

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (5, Insightful)

meist3r (1061628) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199711)

Oh so Steve Jobs right now is probably the most valuable asset of Apple Inc. right? I mean if he returned in a few months time (which I doubt) they'd go "Ohh Steve ... yeah ... sorry but you know your circle is rather pale and small now, we don't really know how to fit you into our business anymore."? No he would return to a high valued position and take the helm again. This whole system is already irrational trying to fit it into mathematical categories to me just sounds ridiculous.

How many people have lost jobs because their boss was having a bad day, or a bad week?

Yeah, but how many have KEPT their job despite having a bad day, or a bad week? Because their boss was an insightful human being that knew he shouldn't judge his employees on basis of statistical performance.

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200133)

Yeah, but how many have KEPT their job despite having a bad day, or a bad week? Because their boss was an insightful human being that knew he shouldn't judge his employees on basis of statistical performance.

If you can replace that employee with one who, all other things being equal, is less likely to have a bad day or week, then doesn't the company benefit?

That's the kind of logic HR is going to use.
They will not come at it from the POV of a "insightful human being".

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200353)

This whole system is already irrational trying to fit it into mathematical categories to me just sounds ridiculous

The easy solution: management will make their own jobs exempt from this mathematical scrutiny, since their job is "fundamentally different" from everybody else's. They've already done so for training, career paths and renumeration schemes...

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (3, Insightful)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199609)

Can business get any more dehumanizing? I don't think so. I at least wouldn't want to work at a company like that.

Amen brother. Coincidentally, aren't these the same companies who never seem to come up with something original?

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (5, Insightful)

meist3r (1061628) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199729)

Amen brother. Coincidentally, aren't these the same companies who never seem to come up with something original?

Maybe because they always fire the wrong people. That guy that hangs out at the water cooler all day and spends half his work hours developing some strange project of his will probably revolutionize the entire industry one day simply because he had all that creative time going. On top of that even though his skills for his job aren't stellar he keeps the morale up and the others going harder because he's such a nice guy and keeps the overall mood in the office on a positive level. Meanwhile, you're complaining that your worker drones, that do exactly as they are told and don't even have ambition to strive for anything else, aren't the innovators that you want them to be. Weird.

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (4, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200127)

That's a big part of why metrics like TFA talks about will fail. The guy at the water cooler is the guy who meets with an informal representative of each group each day, receives a condensed report of how they're REALLY doing and what they're REALLY working on and then shares the significant parts of that with informal representatives of all of the other groups.

He has a much clearer "Big Picture" of how the division's doing and where it's going than the bosses boss. He also has a tiny pale circle because he doesn't email every irrelevancy in his head to everyone else just because it's easier to remember all@ rather than a particular person's email address.

Meanwhile, his KLOC is half that of the others because he spends half his day working over the problem in the back of his mind so that when he sits down and starts coding after lunch he has already whittled the big complex hairball down to a simple and elegant solution.

Since the metrics say he's deadwood, out he goes. Then management spends the next 6 months wondering why, in spite of their bold and brilliant management, the whole division seems to be getting dumber and slower by the day. Time to cut some more deadwood, they figure.

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200371)

OK, sometimes. But it's fair to ask, if you owned a sizeable business, what process would you use to identify these "facilitators" vs. deadwood? None of us wants to be miscategorized as a slacker, but the fact is, some people just are. And most of them probably think they are facilitators.

Tools != management, but can be helpful (2)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199925)

I guess everyone is going to hammer this, so here's a counterpoint. I'm all for better tools to help people development. For far too long, HR and management of people in general has either been too 'robotic' (think Taylorism) or subjective, as in 'your boss likes you, so you get a better raise'.

There's no reason why stuctured approaches, that have worked well elsewhere, should not be used. The real problem lies with lazy, incompetent managers who are everlastingly seeking the holy grail of the 'quick fix'. Now, if a person identified by this method is a high performer but a low communicator, then either his/her job does not require endless emailing, or they are a candidate for some coaching or training.

Unfortunately, interesting and potentially useful tools tend to be abused and hence get a bad name. If some middle-management dick just starts firing people with low bubble-count, all that will happen is that you'll turn the place into an email factory...

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199933)

('thought leaders' and 'networked curators') ... 'You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people,' explains Microsoft's Rupert Bader.

You go for it Mr Bader. It'll mean that those useless, unimportant, non-value-adding engineering employees that you currently employ will leave in disgust, but you'll have a company staffed to the limit with all those valuable 'thought leaders' and 'networked curators'. Best add a few 'change coordinators' and 'innovation facilitators' too. Your MBA course told you those were the kinds of people you need to attract and win, and pay vast salaries for - you don't get the best unless you pay the best after all.

Sure, you might find it difficult to actually *produce* anything, but that's so overrated in the "knowledge economy" anyway, and god the ideas and thoughts coming out of your company will be world-leading.


Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199977)

I might like methodological measurements. IF - and really really stress that big IF - there were a method that made any damned sense. In real life, the method amounts to some idiot twit freshly graduated from college playing around with numbers, then showing those numbers to a drunk boss after work, then extracting a promise from the drunk lard ass that he can apply those numbers on the job. Idiocy, yes, method, no.

Re:Next up: Collateral Employee Obligations (1)

lastchance_000 (847415) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200143)

You mean like this [] ?

What took so long? (1)

conureman (748753) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199441)

I thought this was common practice. Sorry, I never worked H.R.

Re:What took so long? (2, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199697)

I thought this was common practice. Sorry, I never worked H.R.

That's why most people who go into HR - to avoid work.

They're "networking", they're "in meetings", they're "interviewing candidates" - and anyone who's read Dilbert knows that's just job-speak for schmoozing, dozing off, and more schmoozing.

Re:Work (1)

conureman (748753) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199867)

My love of work has been very bad for my career.

Work for a small business instead (1)

LouisJBouchard (316266) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199457)

I notice that it is always the large companies that try to do stuff like this, not the smaller companies and businesses. If this concerns you, reevaluate who you work for. May be tough in these economic times but there are still job opportunities for if you look hard enough (and really, smaller businesses to not hire from Newspaper).

Re:Work for a small business instead (0)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199605)

Yeah but it's easier to "hide" in a large company such that you only work half a day, and then knockoff during the afternoon listening to BBC radio. In a small company you can't get away with that, therefore a big company has its advantages.

Re:Work for a small business instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27200013)

On the flip side you're more likely to want to work in a smaller company, because you're closer to the action and your work will have a direct, visible impact on the output of the company.

Unproductive gossip wins (1)

jandoedel (1149947) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199465)

so, if you don't actually do anything productive, but just forward other people's information all the time, you are "a valuable worker"?

Joy (4, Funny)

Heather D (1279828) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199469)

Ah. Yes this would be the 'Brazil' solution.

"I'm sorry Mr Jones, our database says that you are a statistical outlier and that you should be dead by now."

*pulls out gun*

"You must become compliant."

Approximation (3, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199475)

It may be interesting as an approximation, but people really should know who their good workers are without these tools.

Re:Approximation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199519)

I don't think Microsoft's Rupert Bader would appreciate being called a tool.

Re:Approximation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199997)

I believe that he meant "fool".

Re:Approximation (2, Insightful)

WolfWithoutAClause (162946) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199687)

A managers good workers are the one that get them promoted, not the ones that do good work... and that's ultimately a problem for the organisation.

Re:Approximation (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200163)

At lower levels, that is a common effect, but it's not turtles all the way down: senior management have nowhere left to get promoted to, and their goal should be (and, if their bonuses are stock-based, might actually be) to make the overall business more successful. This is more likely if you get rid of managers who are interested in self-promotion above all else, and promote those who do a good job of managing people as measured by the success/contribution of whatever part of the organisation they manage.

In other words, if you have a culture where all the middle managers are self-promoters and the good people never really get anywhere, it is not an unsolvable problem and it is by definition senior management's fault. But of course, those are the same senior managers who institute the kind of HR policies that assume humans are machines: the very name "human resources" has different — and much less pleasant — overtones to the old "personnel". So the kind of policy we're discussing here is really doing us all a favour, by providing a convenient way to detect such madness in the upper ranks of a company, infer that the company as a whole is probably screwed, and avoid wasting any time applying there. :-)

Who wants to work for either company anyway (3, Insightful)

pkbarbiedoll (851110) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199505)

and live in perpetual fear of being outsourced. Seems like a lose-lose proposition to me.

Rigor? (1)

Heather D (1279828) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199525)

At an undisclosed Internet company, analysis of (non-verbal) communications was used to produce a circle to represent each employee â" those determined to generate or pass along valuable info were portrayed as large and dark-colored circles ('thought leaders' and 'networked curators'), while those with small and pale circles were written off as not adding a hell of a lot. 'You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people,' explains Microsoft's Rupert Bader

This is rigorous analysis!?

So in other words they want schmoozers and suits, not people who are busy.. working?

Great. So just stand on the throttle until you hit something. Because that worked so well for the economy.

Re:Rigor? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199551)

It seems intelligent to me. If you define yourself as the model employee, then you don't have to worry about job security anymore.

Re:Rigor? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199607)

This is rigorous analysis!?

It's more rigorous than promoting the guy with the right hairstyle or firing the guy who graduated from the school that rejected you.

Of course it's still crap, because (on the surface -IDNRTFA) it looks trivially easy to game the system.

silly, but likely to grow (1)

dougwhitehead (573106) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199547)

Given the widespread deployment of technology to filter resumes, HR is ripe to accept any new technology that is thrown its way.

Surfacing "thought leaders" over others amounts to rewarding a personality type. I don't think companies have a problem rewarding the people who influence others. The people who do the heavy lifting are rarely recognized.

Re:silly, but likely to grow (3, Insightful)

owlnation (858981) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199921)

HR is ripe to accept any new technology that is thrown its way.

It's really just an attempt to justify their existence. As a child, no-one -- absolutely no-one -- dreams of working in HR. The only people who work in that field are those that have no ambition, insufficient skills, and yet an hunger for power. They are the mediocre and the inadequate.

Smaller firms don't need this kind of technology, nor really any HR at all, because managers -- who are best suited to judge their employees after all -- can assess staff directly, and accurately.

HR departments are the singular reason why Corporations stagnate. Creative, driven, intelligent people are often "difficult" employees. They have opinions and won't necessarily toe the company line. They won't accept adequate, or selling something as a success when it's poor quality. HR depts will promote those who are the polar opposites of that. And this tool seems designed to filter out the outliers, the ones who actually drive a company forward and create change.

If you want your company to cease innovation, give power to your HR dept. If you want a successful, innovative, profitable company, avoid HR as much as possible.

Human Resources is one of the biggest brakes on human development in the 21st Century. They contribute nothing to society, they are simply holding creativity back.

Why would anyone with an heart, soul and brain work for a company that uses these tools?

Re:silly, but likely to grow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27200257)

Thankfully because of outsourcing, HR is no longer needed.

We'll all be gaming this before too long. (4, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199561)

I would joke that this could be a good thing, in that, we'll just game the review system to get raises.

The reality is, though, that the more corporations seek to control and monitor their employees, the more they will crush the entrepreneur in them. Corporations work best when they motivate people and you do that by creating a positive, team culture that gives its participants a sense of mission. Take that away, reduce people to cogs, and you are going to get cogs as a result, and you'll get an inevitable decline. What enterprising person would want to work as an anonymous cog, coming out of college with a degree and history that says they are anything but, when they could make a real difference at a startup.

Actions like this doom large corporations, and frankly, this sort of thinking was what alienated the big 3 for a lot of people, and now they want to do this to the computer industry?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

AT LAST! (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199567)

I knew my boss was an idiot. Now I can tell all his emails, run them through the HR analysis program, and prove it. Yay! :-)

What's the news? (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199575)

those determined to generate or pass along valuable info were portrayed as large and dark-colored circles ('thought leaders' and 'networked curators'), while those with small and pale circles were written off as not adding a hell of a lot.

So loudmouths that brag (non-verbally... ok) every time they managed to piss without getting too much on their pants get promoted while people who quietly do their work get the shaft. Anything else new?

I've always hated HR, QA, etc... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199581)

I love how they say that only a certain percentage of employees can be meeting, exceeding, or failing to meet expectations.

I have a relative working for a large appliance manufacturer that pulls this crap. Even if every employee did a perfect job (hypothetically speaking), there has to be a least a certain amount of them that are labelled as underperformers.

"Oh. Well, yes, Jimmy, we agree you did a perfect job but since you didn't wear matching socks on August 14th, we'll have to put you in the underperformers category."

Let me tell you about why QA exists in the first place. You one point in time in every large company, there was no QA department. Then, a bunch of sales managers, temps, underperforming execs, obsolete trainers, and lazy HR personnel were all about to get canned for their uselessness. Then, they go to the company president and say, "Hey. You know...we really need to do some 'improving' here at XYZ Corporation. My associates and I have come up with a plan to monitor and track employee productivity and customer satisfaction based on this rigid set of next-to-meaningless criteria. There's always room for improvement, you know. And guess what? The best part is that since we have a plan to apply quantitative figures to qualitative matters, you'll be able to screw most people out of raises and bonuses as often as you'd like! All you have to do is let us keep our jobs."

And, of course, the higer-ups fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Idiots.

use the same criteria they use for hiring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199601)

Why don't they just fire everybody with less years of formal education, or degrees in non-technical fields? That's what big companies use primarily to screen hiring candidates.

Because people with advanced degrees are surely going to be better employees right?

Seriously, I've seen only an inverse relationship between years of formal schooling and job performance. Yeah yeah, the ones who got selected had to be that much better to overcome that hiring criterion.

Shows you that metrics applied to people are only as good as the people who design them. Generally, they're dangerously bad.

Human resources? Bah (4, Insightful)

GF678 (1453005) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199611)

How can you form any kind of social bonding in a company when your worth is distilled down to the results of some fucking mathematical formula? I'm not naive to think there's any concept of loyalty or trust in the modern business, but man, things just keep getting worse.

Forget even referring to us by name anymore, just give us numbers if you're gonna stop treating us as human fucking beings.

Re:Human resources? Bah (4, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199813)

...just give us numbers if you're gonna stop treating us as human fucking beings.

So posted /. user 1453005.
Your participation has been credited to your Interaction Value Score./p>

Re:Human resources? Bah (1)

BillyGee (981263) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199833)

What kind of a useless tiny company do you work for that you don't have an employee number, and one that you have to provide in any conversation with HR? :)

Re:Human resources? Bah (2, Interesting)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200085)

I work at a company that employess about 400 people, perhaps a few more. I have an empoyee number but its just something the accounting department is concerned with, it shows up on pay stubs and once and a while elsewhere like on a benifets form. I certainly would not be able to tell you what the numbe is without going to look for it. I doubt HR could either; they would likely need to ask accounting. I can talk the HR folks any time I want. Our HR director and her assistant know pretty much everyone by name.

I don't think at 400 people we are tiny or useless.
Not every company in the world recudces folks to just numbers.

Gaming the system (2, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199627)

Does it bother anyone this is the same type of gadget analysis that got us into the current economic situation? Your most valuable employees aren't always the most communicative.

We have one developer who shuns any type of contact, doesn't have a phone on his desk, rarely sends an email longer than two sentences. Yet he's the most heads-down, dogged and prolific programmer I've ever worked with. I suppose the gadget developers would argue that would be accounted by how often his code fragments turn up in other projects but how do you really account for the source of a code fragment? Especially one that is later modified for other uses?

I can see a lot of bad conclusions coming from this kind of analysis. Where the most outgoing employees are valued over those actually meeting deadlines. So you end up with a company full of a lot of talkers and lay off all the actual doers. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much how we got in the economic mess we're in.

Re:Gaming the system (1)

Leynos (172919) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199671)

I would argue then that the problem lies in the company's inability to keep track of the non-verbal communication in this case, i.e., the code and documentation produced by said programmer. Any SCM system has attribution and blame tracking. That could be taken further with citations, etc.

Having worked in a few large companies, I have a particular disdain for people who don't share their ideas. Given the transient nature of employment these days, the sharing of ideas is the main way an employee brings value to the company and the work of their colleagues. Anything that rewards the sharing of ideas is a good thing IMO.

I've seen too many people forced to work with an incomplete understanding of the process in which they are engaged because the people who developed the process failed to adequately explain their thinking and methodology, and those who succeeded them had no incentive to pass on their findings and improvements with regards to the process.

Re:Gaming the system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199745)

Sorry but sharing your ideas is a risky thing. In the past I shared some ideas and they were stolen by my coworkers as the credit for those ideas, now I'm no longer share any ideas. Thanks to that I already have been promoted twice.

Sorry for my poor English.

Re:Gaming the system (1)

Leynos (172919) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199775)

Then you ensure that the ideas are shared in such a way that you don't have your credit taken by someone else. Send them in an email with your boss copied in. Place them in a central version controlled repository where your contribution is acknowledged and and cannot be repudiated by others.

Any company worth its salt will provide a way to ensure you get the credit. And when you share your ideas, others will respect you more, and be more inclined to share your ideas.

And those who can do nothing but take without contributing will be drowned out by those who want to work together to make things better for everyone.

Everyone wins.

Re:Gaming the system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27200279)

That is ideal but in reality is not always possible, sometimes is the boss the one that steal the ideas and/or they don't want to install a repository, and sometimes the problems are worsened by prehistoric or illiterate managers/directive. ( Illiterate is not the correct word and I didn't find a better one, I used it in the why that they don't know anything about the work that the their workers do and only are concerned about the results and expenses, and think that their solutions are always correct for the problems of their workers. )

Also you can collaborate with other without sharing your ideas, helping to solver their problems with the work is a way. The reason because I didn't leaved the company is that I didn't found a comparable work in term of income/hour.

Sorry for my poor English.

It seems that if you know your employees, (1)

Bromskloss (750445) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199645)

you have no need for this kind of "rigorous" (bah) methods.

Re:It seems that if you know your employees, (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199685)

Not to defend this kind of bullshit, but you can't know all your employees in a behemoth the size of IBM or MS.

The bigger the organization, the harder it is to manage. Once you get above a certain point it's impossible to manage well, and MS and IBM are waaaaaaaay past the manageable point.

Wait a minute, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199647)


Rewaring people who forward chain letters? (1)

Edgester (105351) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199651)

OK. So by this metric, people who forward chain letters and jokes will get a better rating?

Sheer idiocy. (2, Insightful)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199681)

It presumes that people don't change. It presumes that the set of "desirable" traits are always going to be desirable. It puts quantity over quality, but it is quality that often matters more.

Let's say you have a company that makes widgets. One of the people in the widget design office is a bit of a dork. He's a musician, a quiet and not very sociable bass player. And this is his day job. He works hard enough to keep his job but not much more. One day, he comes up with an idea that is dead brilliant, and then goes on tour. The idea saves the company millions of dollars. And let's see - he always comes in late, frequently hungover, kind of smells, and tries to leave early. He doesn't do that much when he's a round, and he's often not around because of his band.

But, in one afternoon, he has been of more use to the company than all other employees in Widget Design combined, ever.

By the metrics described, he would have been laid off upon return from tour.

Typical fuckwittery by HR bozos.

The best companies don't have HR, except in terms of processing new hires, dealing with benefits, and assisting people on the way out. The rest is left to the departments and managers. It makes for a flatter and faster organisation - ideas M$ has no clue about.


Re:Sheer idiocy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199719)

False logic. The situation you describe is exactly the type of situation this system is designed to reward.

Re:Sheer idiocy. (1)

Cannelloni (969195) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199805)

I agree completely! Microsoft still don't get it.

Please define "valuable information" (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199695)

All this means is that the people emailing links to porn sites will get the first promotions.


When applied to the entire company. (1)

Eevee (535658) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199723)

Use of the tool promptly gets stopped when it reveals that upper management adds no value.

Counter example (4, Insightful)

Vornzog (409419) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199727)

My wife just took a new position, because her last boss was an idiot. He was a passive aggressive micro-manager, puffed up with his own self-importance, *at least* 15 years out of date technically, and long since regulated to the most irrelevant corner of the company.

By the metrics discussed here, though, he'd have looked like the hero! *All* had to run though him - customers, suppliers, management, co-workers - if you talked to someone without including him in the conversation, he'd flip. He threatened to fire my wife (and a few more people since) for doing their job without his constant oversight. Unfortunately, while everyone knows about the situation, my wife was the first to report it to HR, so they can only now start to think about taking action against they guy.

Counting the number of communications makes the people who send one word, no value added emails and attend a lot of meetings they don't need to be at look good.

Also, it completely misses your crack team - the 3-4 people who you can hand a problem to, and know that they'll have it solved by next Tuesday, no questions asked. When those people shut their office door, you leave them alone, because you know they are working miracles, and you'll only get int their way.

Web analogy - Google and page rank. Rule number one is that you never trust the page to tell you how important it really is. Pages with all the right keywords and a bunch of links are one of two things - the best of the best about a topic, or an SEO linkfarm. So you take those things into account, but you do so with a *huge* grain of salt. To augment it, you go looking for other supporting metrics - what do other people think?

The HR department has just automated a human approach to the problem - they took one piece of evidence that the human brain can wrap its head around, and made the computer count that. You want to do informatics and data mining right, you need to learn what the computer is good at, and start looking for deeper patterns that are hidden by masses of data too large for the human mind to encompass.

Re:Counter example (4, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199849)

I strongly suspect that this system is designed to identify people like your wife's ex-boss as valuable employees, while denigrating people like your wife, who (I assume) does real, useful work. The middle-management drones want to justify their existence to the upper-management drones, and software that assigns a number to "networking" and "synergies" and "six-sigma leveraging of core stakeholder values" is exactly the right tool for this. The upper-management drones are inclined to believe this sort of thing already, of course, and the sorts of reports the software generates add to their self-satisfaction.

Re:Counter example (1)

Zomalaja (1324199) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200403)

You are spot on - I've had both extremes of bosses, one whose philosophy was "If you can't do the job you can't work here and if you can I need to stay out of your way since I can only hinder you", while the other somehow managed to interfere with everyone in the company all day long, and especially the ones that were doing things he had no understanding of at all (bookkeeping and plant maintenance). Needless to say I lasted about 6 weeks there and 10+ years at the former, till the boss retired and sold the company.

If it really worked, it would be great (1)

MpVpRb (1423381) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199735)

Unfortunately, employee quality is something that is currently NOT quantifiable.

Co-workers all have an intuitive sense of who is useful and who is not. But trying to measure it with today's crude tools is an exercise in futility. Kinda like measuring productivity by lines of code, or scientific value by number or articles published.

This will end up benefiting those who skillfully learn to play by the new rules, and punish those who may be excellent, but don't fit the standards expected by the measurement methods.

6-month Review (1)

Mo0o (1499045) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199737)

6-month review is exactly like a 'math equation'.

Good managers know their good and bad employees (2, Insightful)

XSpud (801834) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199739)

From TFA:

Certain employees produce chunks of data - whether words or software code - that later pop up in other messages. The people copied most often, Cataphora concludes, are thought leaders.

In my experience the code that is discussed in emails is just as likely to be because it is bad as it is because it is good and I'm sure the examples at [] often "pop up in other messages".

Good managers already know the value of their staff by talking to them, talking to their colleagues and assessing their work. If a manager has to resort to analytics like this at least a corporation knows where their management problems lie.

Re:Good managers know their good and bad employees (1)

jacobsm (661831) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199817)

True, but my manager hardly ever steps out of his office to talk to his people. His idea of his status report to his boss is to cut and paste what we send him into a giant mishmash of conflicting writing styles. On the other hand one of my previous managers wanted everyone to write their status reports in a similar style so when he handed in his status report it looked like he actually had an understanding of what was going on. He didn't.

Re:Good managers know their good and bad employees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27199869)

My manager is so clueless that one of his senior staff left the office at least three times a week for several hours over a couple of years and he never noticed. When this guy was in the office he spent his entire day on porn sites. The manager should have gotten his ass fired when HR found out about the guy.

Rejecting mathematical methods? (2, Insightful)

mi (197448) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199753)

Hey, who could argue with what Quants did for finance [] ?

The above rhetorical question implies, the submitter/editor disagree with mathematical methods. For Slashdot, that's quite a shocker... From the linked posting:

Nocera explores the age-old debate between those who assert that the best decisions are based on quantification and numbers, and those who base their decisions on more subjective degrees of belief about the uncertain future.

A particular math theory may or may not be flawed, but do we really prefer "subjective beliefs" (a.k.a. "hunches") around here?

Re:Rejecting mathematical methods? (2, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199927)

Theodp always submits this kind of "story". Read the linked story - it's largely speculative nonesense.

It wasn't the quants who did for financ so much as greedy managers who believed the numbers, especially when they told them what they wanted to hear. That and failure to apply small quantities of sodium chloride.

Re:Rejecting mathematical methods? (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200105)

False dichotomy. Why are all beliefs not derived from this model or others like it subjective?

Re:Rejecting mathematical methods? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200255)

Or, it simply reveals their skepticism of the mathematical model being employed or of the non-mathematically inclined HR department's ability to understand the math and the limitations of the model.

Quants and HR wonks are to mathematicians as zero point free energy crackpots are to physicists.

All of that crackpottery is nowhere near as useful as the armchair physicist saying from his gut impression TANSTAAFL.

Put another way, a simple analog experiment can easily beat the most advanced digital simulations when the variables are many and difficult to quantify.

Spam risk and blind spots (2, Insightful)

ewg (158266) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199777)

On the face of it, these methods' reliance on machine-readable communications introduces an incentive to spam colleagues with messages in order to inflate one's score. It also penalizes any form of off-line communication.

Calling a meeting to discuss an issue that could have been resolved in the hallway is rewarded, while taking a minute to share information with a coworker in their office is not.

The joke is on them (1) (461873) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199795)

So sending out funny emails to large groups of people all the time is going to get me a promotion? Sweet!

About that "Quants" link. (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199819)

Theodp's ignorant comment about "quants" and mathmatical ignores one of the primary thing I have heard repeated about the blame being put on mathmatical modeling for the financial crisis. Namely, that it is not that mathmatical modeling was used but rather that only one mathmatical model was used by everyone.

Mathmatical modeling is a tool, like a computer. It can be used properly or improperly. And, in the case of the financial systems, it was used improperly, just like theodp's use of his computer and his post to spread FUD.

Re:About that "Quants" link. (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200417)

Theodp's ignorant comment about "quants" and mathmatical ignores one of the primary thing I have heard repeated about the blame being put on mathmatical modeling for the financial crisis. Namely, that it is not that mathmatical modeling was used but rather that only one mathmatical model was used by everyone.

That's just the tip of the iceberg and in part is meant to deflect blame. They want to make the problem seem diffuse and systemic (spread the blame thin enough and it lands on nobody) rather than sharply defined and individual.

The problem was that the mathematical model had only limited historical data to draw from and so, only limited predictive power but it was ignorantly applied as if it's predictive power was limitless by people who didn't actually understand how it worked in the first place, much less why (or even THAT) it could go spectacularly wrong. This in spite of the model's inventor himself cautioning that it wasn't strong enough to be used the way they were using it.

Each and every person who used that tool had a duty to understand it well and to use it properly. Each and every one of them individually failed to do so.

Their managers each individually had the responsibility to weed out those who didn't use their tools properly. Each and every one of THEM individually did the opposite. They weeded out the guys who DID understand the limitations of the tools because they kept saying unpopular things like TANSTAAFL and you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

Some of them did that because they are/were incompetent but well connected boobs (exactly the sort of people that the model in TFA will select for retention) who never should have been in charge of other people's money and some because they were ethically challenged and figured they would be rich and long gone by the time it all crashed.

Naturally, they would much prefer that we blame systemic effects that would be difficult for them to have individually seen for the meltdown rather than blame each of them individually for failing to heed clear warnings and for putting their individual greed ahead of the entire world's well being.

Makes me think of Frederick Taylor (4, Insightful)

krou (1027572) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199929)

When I read things like this, I'm always reminded of Frederick Taylor [] . If you've never heard of him, he's probably the guy you should thank [] for such quackery.

In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.

This idea of mathematically determining the value of each employee fits very well with his ideas. Face it: in the modern corporate world, humans are part of a system that is, overall, far more important than the individual. It is increasingly a scientifically-managed system, so it should come as no surprise that such dehumanising practices should take place. Business does not want humans; it wants workers.

It is quite a logical outcome of our increasing reliance on scientific principles to explain and analyse our world. I find it ironic that many /. members would hate this approach of analysing workers, yet its roots lie in our reliance on science to breakdown, label, categorise, and figure out how we and our world works. In the same way psychology, neuroscience, and other mind-related fields were bastardised to figure out how to manipulate the human mind to makes us consume, the computer sciences will be used in a similar fashion to make us behave a certain way: if you don't want to get fired, you need to make sure what you do conforms to their model.

Sadly, figuring out the "optimal" and "perfect" workers will, like my .sig says, make us realise just what it was that made us human, instead of just robots.

Re:Makes me think of Frederick Taylor (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200191)

It is increasingly a positivistically-managed system

I fixed it for you.

Re:Makes me think of Frederick Taylor (1)

krou (1027572) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200247)

Positivist in the sense it is managed based on observable and measurable phenomena?

Sounds like just another way of saying the same thing as what I said.

Hack Your Score (1)

BinBoy (164798) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199971)

> The people copied most often, Cataphora concludes, are thought leaders.

If your company adopts this system, stop working so hard and start sending out funny emails and internet memes. Then sit back and enjoy your pay raises as everyone forwards your emails.

What's the Life of Brian line? (1)

smchris (464899) | more than 5 years ago | (#27199985)

"God bless the meek." "Oh, that's nice. They have a devil of a time of it." This shouldn't help.

Actually, what's really scary is it's five minutes in the future from Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom where a person thrives by his cumulative online "Whuffie".

Useful to convince under performers (2, Interesting)

Fjan11 (649654) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200019)

I've worked in management positions and I don't really need advice on who my most valuable employees are. But I wouldn't mind having this data to show to underperformers. It's sometimes hard to convince individuals that they are not as good as they think they are.

Re:Useful to convince under performers (4, Insightful)

dougwhitehead (573106) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200135)

So basically, you are saying you want a club to beat people with. That way you can choose who gets the beating.

Most of the discussion here is about determining whether the metric is actually valuable.

Re:Useful to convince under performers (1)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200405)

"I've worked in management positions and I don't really need advice on who my most valuable employees are."

That's what you think. Now, probe it (even to yourself).

Dehumanizing the workforce (3, Insightful)

multimediavt (965608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200099)

Am I the only one very, very disturbed by this type of analysis? To reduce a human being down to a statistical average and use that in hiring and termination practices is just utterly ridiculous. A person is worth more than the sum of their quantifiable parts! I agree that there are far too many people that are either deadwood within an organization or have no business being managers of areas that they have little to no background within, but there are people out there that excel at areas they have no background in (mostly because their thought processes function differently than others, i.e. thinking outside the box) and have the ability to cut across quantifiable boundaries and contribute to an organization's goals in immeasurably positive ways.

This is a horrible idea and will backfire on those that implement it. Mark my words, the first person to be wrongly terminated because of this practice is going to ream the hell out the company that does it. You cannot quantify the human element in an equation. They will ALWAYS surprise you!

the end is nigh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27200113)

Humanity will destroy itself not by the bomb, but it's compulsion to micro-manage every detail of living.

Numerical measures are worse than useless (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200121)

to those who lack understanding.

The point of a company is that it is a system. Productivity is an emergent property, and individual productivity is dependent on putting that individual's talents to best use. True, if you can't figure out how to do this, you should let that person go. But that doesn't mean you should use statistics to run your business like a fantasy football franchise.

Yeah... Sure... (2, Interesting)

Hartree (191324) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200147)

I currently do chemistry work that I report on paper to get entered by others or tell verbally to someone by phone. I think I've sent three emails at work so far this year.

By this measure I am of no value and a temp who does data entry is a national treasure. (That may be true, but it doesn't follow from this analysis.)

Guess I'll have to start responding to those weekly email tag fests of "who is going to bring what to the Friday pot-luck lunch". It may up my stats, but it'll probably add to my waistline.

What if... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27200253)

What id the system concludes that the CEO or several senior managers are worthless?
Those results will be just ignored or...?

For the purposes of my annual review, (0, Redundant)

mkcmkc (197982) | more than 5 years ago | (#27200323)

please also consider my valuable contribution to this discussion:

Elephants are large land mammals of the order Proboscidea and the family Elephantidae. There are three living species: the African Bush Elephant, the African Forest Elephant and the Asian Elephant (also known as the Indian Elephant). Other species have become extinct since the last ice age, the Mammoths, dwarf forms of which may have survived as late as 2,000 BC,[1] being the best-known of these. They were once classified along with other thick skinned animals in a now invalid order, Pachydermata.

Elephants are the largest land animals.[2] The elephant's gestation period is 22 months, the longest of any land animal. At birth it is common for an elephant calf to weigh 120 kilograms (260 lb). They typically live for 50 to 70 years, but the oldest recorded elephant lived for 82 years.[3] The largest elephant ever recorded was shot in Angola in 1956. This male weighed about 12,000 kilograms (26,000 lb),[4] with a shoulder height of 4.2 metres (14 ft), a metre (yard) taller than the average male African elephant.[5] The smallest elephants, about the size of a calf or a large pig, were a prehistoric species that lived on the island of Crete during the Pleistocene epoch.[6]

The elephant has appeared in cultures across the world. They are a symbol of wisdom in Asian cultures and are famed for their memory and intelligence, where they are thought to be on par with cetaceans[7] and hominids.[8] Aristotle once said the elephant was "the beast which passeth all others in wit and mind"[9]. The word "elephant" has its origins in the Greek á¼ÎÎÏαÏ, meaning "ivory" or "elephant".[10]

Healthy adult elephants have no natural predators[11], although lions may take calves or weak individuals.[12][13] They are, however, increasingly threatened by human intrusion and poaching. Once numbering in the millions, the African elephant population has dwindled to between 470,000 and 690,000 individuals according to a March 2007 estimate.[14] While the elephant is a protected species worldwide, with restrictions in place on capture, domestic use, and trade in products such as ivory, CITES reopening of "one time" ivory stock sales, has resulted in increased poaching. Certain African nations report a decrease of their elephant populations by as much as two-thirds, and populations in certain protected areas are in danger of being eliminated[15] Since recent poaching has increased by as much as 45%, the current population is unknown (2008).[16]

        * 1 Taxonomy and evolution
                    o 1.1 African Elephant
                    o 1.2 Asian Elephant
        * 2 Physical characteristics
                    o 2.1 Trunk
                    o 2.2 Tusks
                    o 2.3 Teeth
                    o 2.4 Skin
                    o 2.5 Legs and feet
                    o 2.6 Ears
        * 3 Biology and behavior
                    o 3.1 Social behavior
                    o 3.2 Intelligence
                    o 3.3 Senses
                    o 3.4 Self-awareness
                    o 3.5 Communication
                    o 3.6 Diet
                    o 3.7 Reproduction and life cycle
                                + 3.7.1 Elephant calves
                    o 3.8 Effect on the environment
        * 4 Threat of extinction
                    o 4.1 Hunting
                    o 4.2 Habitat loss
                    o 4.3 National parks
        * 5 Humanity and elephants
                    o 5.1 Harvest from the wild
                    o 5.2 Domestication and use
                                + 5.2.1 Warfare
                                + 5.2.2 Industry
                                + 5.2.3 Zoo and circuses
                                + 5.2.4 Hybrids
                    o 5.3 Elephant rage
                                + 5.3.1 Musth
                                + 5.3.2 Other causes
                    o 5.4 In popular culture
        * 6 See also
        * 7 References
        * 8 Further reading
        * 9 External links

Taxonomy and evolution

See also Elephant classification
Physical difference between an Asian (left) and African (right) elephant.

The African Elephant genus contains two (or, arguably, three) living species; whereas the Asian Elephant species is the only surviving member of the Asian Elephant genus, but can be divided into four subspecies.
Evolution of elephants from the ancient Eocene (bottom) to the modern day (top).

Although the fossil evidence is uncertain, scientists discovered genetic evidence that the elephant family shares distant ancestry with the sirenians (sea cows) and the hyraxes through gene comparisons. In the distant past, members of the hyrax family grew to large sizes, and it seems likely that the common ancestor of all three modern families was some kind of amphibious hyracoid. One theory suggests that these animals spent most of their time under water, using their trunks like snorkels for breathing.[17][18] Modern elephants have retained this ability and are known to swim in that manner for up to 6 hours and 50 km (30 miles).

In the past, there was a much wider variety of elephant genera, including the mammoths and stegodons. There was also a much wider variety of species.[19][20]

African Elephant
Main articles: African Elephant, African Bush Elephant, and African Forest Elephant
Elephant crossing a river, Kenya.
African bush (savanna) elephant in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania.

The Elephants of the genus Loxodonta, known collectively as African elephants, are currently found in 37 countries in Africa.

African elephants are distinguished from Asian elephants in several ways, the most noticeable being their ears which are much larger. The African elephant is typically larger than the Asian elephant and has a concave back. Both African males and females have external tusks and are usually less hairy than their Asian cousins.

African elephants have traditionally been classified as a single species comprising two distinct subspecies, namely the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), but recent DNA analysis suggests that these may actually constitute distinct species.[21] This split is not universally accepted by experts[22] and a third species of African elephant has also been proposed.[23]

This reclassification has important implications for conservation, because it means that where previously it was assumed that a single and endangered species comprised two small populations, if in reality these are two separate species, then as a consequence, both could be more gravely endangered than a more numerous and wide-ranging single species might have been. There is also a potential danger in that, if the forest elephant is not explicitly listed as an endangered species, poachers and smugglers might be able to evade the law forbidding trade in endangered animals and their body parts.

The Forest elephant and the Savanna elephant can also hybridise â" that is, breed together â" successfully, though their preferences for different terrains reduce such opportunities. As the African elephant has only recently been recognized to comprise two separate species, groups of captive elephants have not been comprehensively classified and some could well be hybrids.

Under the new two species classification, Loxodonta africana refers specifically to the Savanna Elephant, the largest of all elephants. In fact, it is the largest land animal in the world, with the males standing 3.2 metres (10 ft) to 4 metres (13 ft) at the shoulder and weighing 3,500 kilograms (7,700 lb) to a reported 12,000 kilograms (26,000 lb).[24]. The female is smaller, standing about 3 metres (9.8 ft) at the shoulder[25]. Most often, Savanna Elephants are found in open grasslands, marshes, and lakeshores. They range over much of the savanna zone south of the Sahara.

The other putative species, the Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), is usually smaller and rounder, and its tusks thinner and straighter compared with the Savanna Elephant. The Forest Elephant can weigh up to 4,500 kilograms (9,900 lb) and stand about 3 metres (10 ft) tall. Much less is known about these animals than their savanna cousins, because environmental and political obstacles make them difficult to study. Normally, they inhabit the dense African rain forests of central and western Africa, although occasionally they roam the edges of forests, thus overlapping the Savanna elephant territories and hybridizing. In 1979, Iain Douglas-Hamilton estimated the continental population of African elephants at around 1.3 million animals.[26] This estimate is controversial and is believed to be a gross overestimate,[27] but it is very widely cited and has become a de facto baseline that continues to be incorrectly used to quantify downward population trends in the species. Through the 1980s, Loxodonta received worldwide attention due to the dwindling numbers of major populations in East Africa, largely as a result of poaching. Today, according to IUCNâ(TM)s African Elephant Status Report 2007[28] there are approximately between 470,000 and 690,000 African elephants in the wild. Although this estimate only covers about half of the total elephant range, experts do not believe the true figure to be much higher, as it is unlikely that large populations remain to be discovered.[29] By far the largest populations are now found in Southern and Eastern Africa, which together account for the majority of the continental population. According to a recent analysis by IUCN experts, most major populations in Eastern and Southern Africa are stable or have been steadily increasing since the mid-1990s, at an average rate of 4.5% per year.[30][31]

Elephant populations in West Africa, on the other hand, are generally small and fragmented, and only account for a small proportion of the continental total.[32] Much uncertainty remains as to the size of the elephant population in Central Africa, where the prevalence of forest makes population surveys difficult, but poaching for ivory and bushmeat is believed to be intense through much of the region.[33] South Africa elephant population more than doubled, rising from 8,000 to over 20,000, in the thirteen years after a 1995 ban on killing the animals.[34] The ban was lifted in February 2008, sparking controversy among environmental groups.[35]

Asian Elephant
Main article: Asian Elephant

The Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, is smaller than the African. It has smaller ears, and typically, only the males have large external tusks.

An Asian elephant named Sri Hari during Sree Poornathrayesa temple festival, Thrippunithura.

A decorated Indian elephant in Jaipur, India.

"O Elephante" - Hand-coloured engraving drawn by H.Gobin and engraved by Ramus[36]

Elephant in Sri Lanka

The world population of Asian elephants â" also called Indian Elephants â" is estimated to be around 60,000, about a tenth of the number of African elephants. More precisely, it is estimated that there are between 38,000 and 53,000 wild elephants and between 14,500 and 15,300 domesticated elephants in Asia with perhaps another 1,000 scattered around zoos in the rest of the world.[37] The Asian elephants' decline has possibly been more gradual than the African and caused primarily by poaching and habitat destruction by human encroachment.

Several subspecies of Elephas maximus have been identified, using morphometric data and molecular markers. Elephas maximus maximus (Sri Lankan Elephant) is found only on the island of Sri Lanka. It is the largest of the Asians. There are an estimated 3,000â"4,500 members of this subspecies left today in the wild, although no accurate census has been carried out recently. Large males can weigh upward to 5,400 kg (12,000 lb) and stand over 3.4 m (11 ft) tall. Sri Lankan males have very large cranial bulges, and both sexes have more areas of depigmentation than other Asians. Typically, their ears, face, trunk, and belly have large concentrations of pink-speckled skin. There is an orphanage for elephants in Pinnawala, Sri Lanka, which plays a large role in protecting the Sri Lankan Elephant from extinction.

Elephas maximus indicus (Indian Elephant) makes up the bulk of the Asian elephant population. Numbering approximately 36,000, these elephants are lighter grey in colour, with depigmentation only on the ears and trunk. Large males will ordinarily weigh only about 5,000 kg (11,000 lb), but are as tall as the Sri Lankan. The mainland Asian can be found in 11 Asian countries, from India to Indonesia. They prefer forested areas and transitional zones, between forests and grasslands, where greater food variety is available.

The smallest of all the elephants is the Sumatran Elephant, Elephas maximus sumatranus. Population estimates for this group range from 2,100 to 3,000 individuals. It is very light grey in colour and has less depigmentation than the other Asians, with pink spots only on the ears. Mature Sumatrans will usually only measure 1.7â"2.6 m (5.6â"8.5 ft) at the shoulder and weigh less than 3,000 kg (6,600 lb). It is considerably smaller than its other Asian (and African) cousins and exists only on the island of Sumatra, usually in forested regions and partially wooded habitats.

In 2003, a further subspecies was identified on Borneo. Named the Borneo pygmy elephant, it is smaller and tamer than any other Asian elephants. It also has relatively larger ears, longer tail and straighter tusks.

Physical characteristics

Trunk of African (left) and Asian (right) elephant.
An elephant can use its trunk for a variety of purposes. This one is wiping its eye.
Eyes of an Asian elephant.

The proboscis, or trunk, is a fusion of the nose and upper lip, elongated and specialized to become the elephant's most important and versatile appendage. African elephants are equipped with two fingerlike projections at the tip of their trunk, while Asians have only one. According to biologists, the elephant's trunk may have over forty thousand individual muscles in it,[38] making it sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass, yet strong enough to rip the branches off a tree. Some sources indicate that the correct number of muscles in an elephant's trunk is closer to one hundred thousand.[39]

Most herbivores (plant eaters, like the elephant) possess teeth adapted for cutting and tearing off plant materials. However, except for the very young or infirm, elephants always use their trunks to tear up their food and then place it in their mouth. They will graze on grass or reach up into trees to grasp leaves, fruit, or entire branches. If the desired food item is too high up, the elephant will wrap its trunk around the tree or branch and shake its food loose or sometimes simply knock the tree down altogether.

The trunk is also used for drinking. Elephants suck water up into the trunk (up to fifteen quarts or fourteen litres at a time) and then blow it into their mouth. Elephants also inhale water to spray on their body during bathing. On top of this watery coating, the animal will then spray dirt and mud, which act as a protective sunscreen. When swimming, the trunk makes an excellent snorkel.[17][18]

This appendage also plays a key role in many social interactions. Familiar elephants will greet each other by entwining their trunks, much like a handshake. They also use them while play-wrestling, caressing during courtship and mother / child interactions, and for dominance displays â" a raised trunk can be a warning or threat, while a lowered trunk can be a sign of submission. Elephants can defend themselves very well by flailing their trunk at unwanted intruders or by grasping and flinging them.

An elephant also relies on its trunk for its highly developed sense of smell. Raising the trunk up in the air and swivelling it from side to side, like a periscope, it can determine the location of friends, enemies, and food sources.

Trunks of African and Asian elephants.

The tusks of an elephant are its second upper incisors. Tusks grow continuously; an adult male's tusks will grow about 18 cm (7 in) a year. Tusks are used to dig for water, salt, and roots; to debark trees, to eat the bark; to dig into baobab trees to get at the pulp inside; and to move trees and branches when clearing a path. In addition, they are used for marking trees to establish territory and occasionally as weapons.

Like humans who are typically right- or left-handed, elephants are usually right- or left-tusked. The dominant tusk, called the master tusk, is generally shorter and more rounded at the tip from wear. Both male and female African elephants have large tusks that can reach over 3 m (10 ft) in length and weigh over 90 kg (200 lb). In the Asian species, only the males have large tusks. Female Asians have tusks which are very small or absent altogether. Asian males can have tusks as long as the much larger Africans, but they are usually much slimmer and lighter; the heaviest recorded is 39 kg (86 lb). The tusk of both species is mostly made of calcium phosphate in the form of apatite. As a piece of living tissue, it is relatively soft (compared with other minerals such as rock), and the tusk, also known as ivory, is strongly favoured by artists for its carvability. The desire for elephant ivory has been one of the major factors in the reduction of the world's elephant population.

Some extinct relatives of elephants had tusks in their lower jaws in addition to their upper jaws, such as Gomphotherium, or only in their lower jaws, such as Deinotherium.


Elephants' teeth are very different from those of most other mammals. Over their lives they usually have 28 teeth. These are:

        * The two upper second incisors: these are the tusks.
        * The milk precursors of the tusks.
        * 12 premolars, 3 in each side of each jaw.
        * 12 molars, 3 in each side of each jaw.

Replica of an Asian Elephant's molar, showing upper side

This gives elephants a dental formula of:

Unlike most mammals, which grow baby teeth and then replace them with a permanent set of adult teeth, elephants have cycles of tooth rotation throughout their entire life. The tusks have milk precursors, which fall out quickly and the adult tusks are in place by one year of age, but the molars are replaced five times in an average elephant's lifetime.[40] The teeth do not emerge from the jaws vertically like with human teeth. Instead, they move horizontally, like a conveyor belt. New teeth grow in at the back of the mouth, pushing older teeth toward the front, where they wear down with use and the remains fall out. When an elephant becomes very old, the last set of teeth is worn to stumps, and it must rely on softer foods to chew. Very elderly elephants often spend their last years exclusively in marshy areas where they can feed on soft wet grasses. Eventually, when the last teeth fall out, the elephant will be unable to eat and will die of starvation. Were it not for tooth wearout, their metabolism would allow them to live much longer. Rupert Sheldrake has proposed this as an explanation for the elephant graveyards. However, as more habitat is destroyed, the elephants' living space becomes smaller and smaller; the elderly no longer have the opportunity to roam in search of more appropriate food and will, consequently, die of starvation at an earlier age.

Tusks in the lower jaw are also second incisors. These grew out large in Deinotherium and some mastodons, but in modern elephants they disappear early without erupting.

Skin of an African (left) and Asian (right) elephant.

Elephants are colloquially called pachyderms (from their original scientific classification), which means thick-skinned animals. An elephant's skin is extremely tough around most parts of its body and measures about 2.5 centimetres (1.0 in) thick. However, the skin around the mouth and inside of the ear is paper-thin. Normally, the skin of an Asian is covered with more hair than its African counterpart. This is most noticeable in the young. Asian calves are usually covered with a thick coat of brownish red fuzz. As they get older, this hair darkens and becomes more sparse, but it will always remain on their heads and tails.

The species of elephants are typically greyish in colour, but the Africans very often appear brown or reddish from wallowing in mud holes of coloured soil. Wallowing is an important behaviour in elephant society. Not only is it important for socialization, but the mud acts as a sunscreen, protecting their skin from harsh ultraviolet radiation. Although tough, an elephant's skin is very sensitive. Without regular mud baths to protect it from burning, as well as from insect bites and moisture loss, an elephant's skin would suffer serious damage. After bathing, the elephant will usually use its trunk to blow dirt on its body to help dry and bake on its new protective coat. As elephants are limited to smaller and smaller areas, there is less water available, and local herds will often come too close over the right to use these limited resources.

Wallowing also aids the skin in regulating body temperatures. Elephants have difficulty in releasing heat through the skin because, in proportion to their body size, they have very little of it. The ratio of an elephant's mass to the surface area of its skin is many times that of a human. Elephants have even been observed lifting up their legs to expose the soles of their feet, presumably in an effort to expose more skin to the air. Since wild elephants live in very hot climates, they must have other means of getting rid of excess heat.

Legs and feet
Elephant using its feet to crush a watermelon prior to eating it

An elephant's legs are great straight pillars, as they must be to support its bulk. The elephant needs less muscular power to stand because of its straight legs and large pad-like feet. For this reason an elephant can stand for very long periods of time without tiring. In fact, African elephants rarely lie down unless they are sick or wounded. Indian elephants, in contrast, lie down frequently.

The feet of an elephant are nearly round. African elephants have three nails on each hind foot, and four on each front foot. Indian elephants have four nails on each hind foot and five on each front foot. Beneath the bones of the foot is a tough, gelatinous material that acts as a cushion or shock absorber. Under the elephant's weight the foot swells, but it gets smaller when the weight is removed. An elephant can sink deep into mud, but can pull its legs out readily because its feet become smaller when they are lifted.[citation needed]

An elephant is a good swimmer, but it can not trot, jump, nor gallop. It does have two gaits: a walk; and a faster gait that is similar to running.

In walking, the legs act as pendulums, with the hips and shoulders rising and falling while the foot is planted on the ground. With no "aerial phase", the faster gait does not meet all the criteria of running, as elephants always have at least one foot on the ground. However, an elephant moving fast uses its legs much like a running animal, with the hips and shoulders falling and then rising while the feet are on the ground. In this gait, an elephant will have three feet off the ground at one time. As both of the hind feet and both of the front feet are off the ground at the same time, this gait has been likened to the hind legs and the front legs taking turns running.[41]

Although they start this "run" at only 8 km/h,[42] elephants can reach speeds up to 40 km/h (25 mph),[43] all the while using the same gait. At this speed, most other four-legged creatures are well into a gallop, even accounting for leg length. Spring-like kinetics could explain the difference between the motion of elephants and other animals.[44]

Difference between Asian (left) and African (right) elephant ears.

The large flapping ears of an elephant are also very important for temperature regulation. Elephant ears are made of a very thin layer of skin stretched over cartilage and a rich network of blood vessels. On hot days, elephants will flap their ears constantly, creating a slight breeze. This breeze cools the surface blood vessels, and then the cooler blood gets circulated to the rest of the animal's body. The hot blood entering the ears can be cooled as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit before returning to the body. Differences in the ear sizes of African and Asian elephants can be explained, in part, by their geographical distribution. Africans originated and stayed near the equator, where it is warmer. Therefore, they have bigger ears. Asians live farther north, in slightly cooler climates, and thus have smaller ears.

The ears are also used in certain displays of aggression and during the males' mating period. If an elephant wants to intimidate a predator or rival, it will spread its ears out wide to make itself look more massive and imposing. During the breeding season, males give off an odour from the musth gland located behind their eyes. Joyce Poole, a well-known elephant researcher, has theorized that the males will fan their ears in an effort to help propel this "elephant cologne" great distances. [45]

Biology and behavior

Social behavior
Elephant footprints (tire tracks for scale)

Elephants live in a structured social order. The social lives of male and female elephants are very different. The females spend their entire lives in tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. These groups are led by the eldest female, or matriarch. Adult males, on the other hand, live mostly solitary lives.

The social circle of the female elephant does not end with the small family unit. In addition to encountering the local males that live on the fringes of one or more groups, the female's life also involves interaction with other families, clans, and subpopulations. Most immediate family groups range from five to fifteen adults, as well as a number of immature males and females. When a group gets too big, a few of the elder daughters will break off and form their own small group. They remain very aware of which local herds are relatives and which are not.

The life of the adult male is very different. As he gets older, he begins to spend more time at the edge of the herd, gradually going off on his own for hours or days at a time. Eventually, days become weeks, and somewhere around the age of fourteen, the mature male, or bull, sets out from his natal group for good. While males do live primarily solitary lives, they will occasionally form loose associations with other males. These groups are called bachelor herds. The males spend much more time than the females fighting for dominance with each other. Only the most dominant males will be permitted to breed with cycling females. The less dominant ones must wait their turn. It is usually the older bulls, forty to fifty years old, that do most of the breeding.

The dominance battles between males can look very fierce, but typically they inflict very little injury. Most of the bouts are in the form of aggressive displays and bluffs. Ordinarily, the smaller, younger, and less confident animal will back off before any real damage can be done. However, during the breeding season, the battles can get extremely aggressive, and the occasional elephant is injured. During this season, known as musth, a bull will fight with almost any other male it encounters, and it will spend most of its time hovering around the female herds, trying to find a receptive mate.

African as well as Asiatic males will engage in same-sex bonding and mounting. Such encounters are often associated with affectionate interactions, such as kissing, trunk intertwining, and placing trunks in each other's mouths. The encounters are analogous to heterosexual bouts, one male often extending his trunk along the other's back and pushing forward with his tusks to signify his intention to mount. Unlike heterosexual relations, which are always of a fleeting nature, those between males result in a "companionship", consisting of an older individual and one or two younger, attendant males. Same-sex relations are common and frequent in both sexes, with Asiatic elephants in captivity devoting roughly 46% of sexual encounters to same-sex activity.[46]

Rogue elephant is a term for a lone, violently aggressive wild elephant. It is a calque of the Sinhala term hora aliya. Its introduction to English has been attributed by the Oxford English Dictionary to Sir James Emerson Tennent, but this usage may have been pre-dated by William Sirr.

Main article: Elephant intelligence
Human, dolphin and elephant brains up to scale. (1)-cerebrum (1a)-temporal lobe and (2)-cerebellum

With a mass just over 5 kg (11 lb), elephant brains are larger than those of any other land animal, and although the largest whales have body masses twentyfold those of a typical elephant, whale brains are barely twice the mass of an elephant's. A wide variety of behaviours, including those associated with grief, making music, art, altruism, allomothering, play, use of tools,[47] compassion and self-awareness [48] evidence a highly intelligent species on par with cetaceans[7] and primates[8]. The largest areas in the elephant brain are those responsible for hearing, smell and movement coordination.


Elephants have well innervated trunks, and an exceptional sense of hearing and smell. The hearing receptors reside not only in ears, but also in trunks that are sensitive to vibrations, and most significantly feet, which have special receptors for low frequency sound and are exceptionally well innervated. Elephants communicate by sound over large distances of several kilometers partly through the ground, which is important for their social lives. Elephants are observed listening by putting trunks on the ground and carefully positioning their feet.

Their eyesight is relatively poor, and the eyes are aiming down the trunk. An elephant has to raise his head conspicuously to look out horizontally[citation needed].


Mirror self recognition is a test of self awareness and cognition used in animal studies. A mirror was provided and visible marks were made on the elephant. The elephants investigated these marks, which were visible only via the mirror. The tests also included non-visible marks to rule out the possibility of their using other senses to detect these marks. This shows that elephants recognize the fact that the image in the mirror is their own self and such abilities are considered the basis for empathy, altruism and higher social interactions. This ability has been demonstrated in humans, apes, dolphins,[49] and magpies.[50]
A young elephant in Zimbabwe.


In addition to their bellows, roars and widely recognized trumpet-like calls; elephants communicate over long distances by producing and receiving low-frequency sound (infrasound), a sub-sonic rumbling, which can travel through the ground farther than sound travels through the air. This can be felt by the sensitive skin of an elephant's feet and trunk, which pick up the resonant vibrations much as the flat skin on the head of a drum. To listen attentively, every member of the herd will lift one foreleg from the ground, and face the source of the sound, or often lay its trunk on the ground. The lifting presumably increases the ground contact and sensitivity of the remaining legs. This ability is thought also to aid their navigation by use of external sources of infrasound. Discovery of this new aspect of elephant social communication and perception came with breakthroughs in audio technology, which can pick up frequencies outside the range of the human ear. Pioneering research in elephant infrasound communication was done by Katy Payne, of the Elephant Listening Project,[51] and is detailed in her book Silent Thunder. Though this research is still in its infancy, it is helping to solve many mysteries, such as how elephants can find distant potential mates, and how social groups are able to coordinate their movements over extensive range.


Elephants are herbivores, spending 16 hours a day collecting plant food. Their diet is at least 50% grasses, supplemented with leaves, bamboo, twigs, bark, roots, and small amounts of fruits, seeds and flowers. Because elephants only digest 40% of what they eat, they have to make up for their digestive system's lack of efficiency in volume. An adult elephant can consume 140â"270 kg (300â"600 lb) of food a day. 60% of that food leaves the elephant's body undigested[citation needed].

Reproduction and life cycle

Elephant calves

Elephant social life revolves around breeding and raising of the calves. A female will usually be ready to breed around the age of thirteen, when she comes into estrus, a short phase of receptiveness lasting a couple of days, for the first time. Females announce their estrus with smell signals and special calls.
Female African elephant with calf, in Kenya.

Females prefer bigger, stronger, and, most importantly, older males. Such a reproductive strategy tends to increase their offspring's chances of survival.

After a twenty-two-month pregnancy, the mother will give birth to a calf that will weigh about 113 kg (250 lb) and stand over 76 cm (2.5 ft) tall. Elephants have a very long childhood. They are born with fewer survival instincts than many other animals. Instead, they must rely on their elders to teach them the things they need to know. Today, however, the pressures humans have put on the wild elephant populations, from poaching to habitat destruction, mean that the elderly often die at a younger age, leaving fewer teachers for the young.

A new calf is usually the centre of attention for all herd members. All the adults and most of the other young will gather around the newborn, touching and caressing it with their trunks. The baby is born nearly blind and at first relies, almost completely, on its trunk to discover the world around it.

As everyone in the herd is usually related, all members of the tightly knit female group participate in the care and protection of the young. After the initial excitement, the mother will usually select several full-time baby-sitters, or "allomothers", from her group. According to Cynthia Moss, a well known researcher, these allomothers will help in all aspects of raising the calf[52]. They walk with the young as the herd travels, helping the calves along if they fall or get stuck in the mud. The more allomothers a baby has, the more free time its mother has to feed herself. Providing a calf with nutritious milk means the mother has to eat more nutritious food herself. So, the more allomothers, the better the calf's chances of survival. An elephant is considered an allomother when she is not able to have her own baby. A benefit of being an allomother is that she can gain experience or receive assistance when caring for her own calf.

Effect on the environment

Elephants are a species which many other organisms depend on. One particular example of that are termites mounds: termites eat elephant feces and often begin building their mounds under piles of elephant feces.

Elephants' foraging activities can sometimes greatly affect the areas in which they live. By pulling down trees to eat leaves, breaking branches, and pulling out roots they create clearings in which new young trees and other vegetation can establish itself. During the dry season, elephants use their tusks to dig into dry river beds to reach underground sources of water. These newly dug water holes may then become the only source of water in the area. Elephants make pathways through their environment which are also used by other animals to access areas normally out of reach. This pathways have sometimes been used by several generations of elephants and today are converted by humans to paved roads.

Threat of extinction

Men with African Elephant tusks, Dar es Salaam, c. 1900

An Elephant resting his head on a tree trunk, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

An elephant in the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania

African Savanna Elephant Loxodonta africana, born 1969 (left), and Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, born 1970 (right), at an English zoo


The threat to the African elephant presented by the ivory trade is unique to the species. Larger, long-lived, slow-breeding animals, like the elephant, are more susceptible to overhunting than other animals. They cannot hide, and it takes many years for an elephant to grow and reproduce. An elephant needs an average of 140 kg (300 lb) of vegetation a day to survive. As large predators are hunted, the local small grazer populations (the elephant's food competitors) find themselves on the rise. The increased number of herbivores ravage the local trees, shrubs, and grasses. Elephants themselves have few natural predators besides man and, occasionally, lions.

Habitat loss

Another threat to elephant's survival in general is the ongoing cultivation of their habitats with increasing risk of conflicts of interest with human cohabitants. These conflicts kill 150 elephants and up to 100 people per year in Sri Lanka.[53] Lacking the massive tusks of its African cousins, the Asian elephant's demise can be attributed mostly to loss of its habitat.

As larger patches of forest disappear, the ecosystem is affected in profound ways. The trees are responsible for anchoring soil and absorbing water runoff. Floods and massive erosion are common results of deforestation. Elephants need massive tracts of land because, much like the slash-and-burn farmers, they are used to crashing through the forest, tearing down trees and shrubs for food and then cycling back later on, when the area has regrown. As forests are reduced to small pockets, elephants become part of the problem, quickly destroying all the vegetation in an area, eliminating all their resources.

National parks
An Elephant sanctuary at Punnathur kotta, Kerala, south India.

Africa's first official reserve, Kruger National Park, eventually became one of the world's most famous and successful national parks. [54] There are, however, many problems associated with the establishment of these reserves. For example, elephants range through a wide tract of land with little regard for national borders. Once a reserve is established and fence erected, many animals find themselves cut off from their winter feeding grounds or spring breeding areas. Some animals may die as a result, while others, like the elephants, may just trample over the fences, wreaking havoc in nearby fields. When confined to small territories, elephants can inflict an enormous amount of damage to the local landscapes. [55]

Additionally, some reserves, such as Kruger National Park has, in the opinion of wildlife managers, suffered from elephant overcrowding, at the expense of other species of wildlife within the reserve. On 25 February 2008, the South Africa announced that they would reintroduce culling for the first time since 1994 to control elephant numbers.[56] Nevertheless, as scientists learn more about nature and the environment, it becomes very clear that these parks may be the elephant's last hope against the rapidly changing world around them.

Humanity and elephants

Harvest from the wild

The harvest of elephants, both legal and illegal, has had some unexpected consequences on elephant anatomy as well. African ivory hunters, by killing only tusked elephants, have given a much larger chance of mating to elephants with small tusks or no tusks at all. The propagation of the absent-tusk gene has resulted in the birth of large numbers of tuskless elephants, now approaching 30% in some populations (compare with a rate of about 1% in 1930). Tusklessness, once a very rare genetic abnormality, has become a widespread hereditary trait.

It is possible, if unlikely, that continued selection pressure could bring about a complete absence of tusks in African elephants, a development normally requiring thousands of years of evolution. The effect of tuskless elephants on the environment, and on the elephants themselves, could be dramatic. Elephants use their tusks to root around in the ground for necessary minerals, tear apart vegetation, and spar with one another for mating rights. Without tusks, elephant behaviour could change dramatically.[57]

Domestication and use

Elephants have been working animals used in various capacities by humans. Seals found in the Indus Valley suggest that the elephant was first domesticated in ancient India. However, elephants have never been truly domesticated: the male elephant in his periodic condition of musth is dangerous and difficult to control. Therefore elephants used by humans have typically been female, war elephants being an exception, however: as female elephants in battle will run from a male, only males could be used in war. It is generally more economical to capture wild young elephants and tame them than breeding them in captivity (see also elephant "crushing").
The Judean rebel Eleazar Maccabeus kills a Seleucid war elephant and is crushed under it (Miniature from a manuscript Speculum Humanae Salvationis).

The Lao PDR has been domesticating elephant for centuries, and still employs an approximate 500 domesticated elephants, the majority of which work in the Xaignabouli province. These elephants are mainly employed in the logging industry, with ecotourism emerging as a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative. Elefantasia is a local INGO aiming to reconvert logging elephants into ecotourism practices, thus allowing Asian elephants the ability to supply their mahouts with income whilst still allowed to breed.

Elephants are also commonly exhibited in zoos and wild animal parks. 1200 Elephants are kept in western zoos. A study shows that the lifespan of elephants in European zoos is about half as long as those living in protected areas in Africa and Asia.[58]

Main article: War elephant

War elephants were used by armies in the Indian sub-continent, the Warring States of China, and later by the Persian Empire. This use was adopted by Hellenistic armies after Alexander the Great experienced their worth against king Porus, notably in the Ptolemaic and Seleucid diadoch empires. The Carthaginian general Hannibal took elephants across the Alps when he was fighting the Romans, but brought too few elephants to be of much military use, although his horse cavalry was quite successful; he probably used a now-extinct third African (sub)species, the North African (Forest) elephant, smaller than its two southern cousins, and presumably easier to domesticate. A large elephant in full charge could cause tremendous damage to infantry, and cavalry horses would be afraid of them (see Battle of Hydaspes).

Elephant work camp in Thailand. Elephants are used for heavy forest work and in circus presentations

Throughout Myanmar (Burma), Siam, India, and most of South Asia elephants were used in the military for heavy labour, especially for uprooting trees and moving logs, and were also commonly used as executioners to crush the condemned underfoot.

Elephants have also been used as mounts for safari-type hunting, especially Indian shikar (mainly on tigers), and as ceremonial mounts for royal and religious occasions, whilst Asian elephants have been used for transport and entertainment.

Zoo and circuses

There is growing resistance[59] against the capture, confinement, and use of wild elephants. Animal rights advocates allege that elephants in zoos and circuses "suffer a life of chronic physical ailments, social deprivation, emotional starvation, and premature death".[60] Zoos argue that standards for treatment of elephants are extremely high and that minimum requirements for such things as minimum space requirements, enclosure design, nutrition, reproduction, enrichment and veterinary care are set to ensure the wellbeing of elephants in captivity. Circuses continue to have a mixed record. Recently, the city of Los Angeles' closed an elephant act with Circus Vazquez due to numerous instances of abuse and neglect (April 2008) [61], and, according to PETA, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has lost 25 elephants since 1992.[62]

Elephants have traditionally been a major part of circuses around the world, being intelligent enough to be trained in a variety of acts (see for example P.T. Barnum's Jumbo and John L. Sullivan, the famous "Boxing Elephant"). However, conditions for circus elephants are highly unnatural (confinement in small pens or cages, restraints on their feet, lack of companionship of other elephants, etc) and, perhaps as a result, there are instances of them turning on their keepers or handlers (examples include Black Diamond and "Murderous Mary").

Elephants raised in captivity sometimes show "rocking behavior", a rhythmic and repetitive swaying which is unreported in free ranging wild elephants. Thought to be symptomatic of stress disorders, and probably made worse by a barren environment,[63] rocking behavior may be a precursor to aggressive behavior in captive elephants.[64][65] This link is to an image of Devi (little princess), a 30-year-old Asian Elephant raised in captivity at the San Diego Zoo showing "rocking behavior".


Although successful hybridisation between African and Asian Elephant species is highly unlikely in the wild, in 1978 at Chester Zoo, an Asian elephant cow gave birth to a hybrid calf sired by an African elephant bull (the old terms are used here as these events pre-date the current classifications). "Motty", the resulting hybrid male calf, had an African elephant's cheeks, their ears (large with pointed lobes) and legs (longer and slimmer), but the toenail numbers, (5 for each front foot, 4 hind) and the single trunk finger of an Asian elephant. His wrinkled trunk was like that of an African elephant. His forehead was sloping with one dome and two smaller domes behind it. The body was African in type, but had an Asian-type centre hump and an African-type rear hump. The calf died of infection 12 days later[66]. It is preserved as a mounted specimen at the British Natural History Museum, London. There are unconfirmed rumours of three other hybrid elephants born in zoos or circuses; all are said to have been deformed and none survived.

Elephant rage
Devi (little princess), a 30-year-old Asian Elephant raised in captivity at the San Diego Zoo exhibiting "rocking behavior" (animation), a rhythmic and repetitive swaying which is unreported in free ranging wild elephants. Thought to be symptomatic of stress disorders, and probably made worse by a barren environment,[67] rocking behavior may be a precursor to aggressive behavior in captive elephants.

Despite its popularity in zoos, and cuddly portrayal as gentle giants in fiction, elephants are among the world's most potentially dangerous animals. They can crush and kill any other land animal, even the rhinoceros. They can experience unexpected bouts of rage, and can be vindictive.[68] In Africa, groups of young teenage elephants attack human villages in what is thought to be revenge for the destruction of their society by massive cullings done in the 1970s and 80s.[69] [70] In India, male elephants attack villages at night, destroying homes and killing people regularly. In the Indian state of Jharkhand, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004, and in Assam, 239 people have been killed by elephants since 2001.[68] In India, elephants kill up to 200 humans every year, and in Sri Lanka around 50 per year.

Main article: Musth

Adult male elephants naturally periodically enter the state called musth (Hindi for "madness"), sometimes spelt "must" in English.

Other causes

At least a few elephants have been suspected to be drunk during their attacks. In December 1998, a herd of elephants overran a village in India. Although locals reported that nearby elephants had recently been observed drinking beer which rendered them "unpredictable", officials considered it the least likely explanation for the attack.[71] An attack on another Indian village occurred in October 1999, and again locals believed the reason was drunkenness, but the theory was not widely accepted.[72] Purportedly drunk elephants raided yet another Indian village again on December 2002, killing six people, which led to killing of about 200 elephants by locals.[73]

In popular culture
See also: Cultural depictions of elephants
Rudyard Kipling's Elephant's Child.

Elephants are ubiquitous in Western popular culture as emblems of the exotic[74] because their unique appearance and size sets them apart from other animals and because, like other African animals such as the giraffe, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus, they are unfamiliar to Western audiences.[75] Popular culture's stock references to elephants rely on this exotic uniqueness.[75] For instance, a "white elephant" is a byword for something expensive, useless and bizarre.[75]

As characters, elephants are relegated largely to children's literature,[74] in which they are generally cast as models of exemplary behaviour,[74] but account for some of this branch of literature's most iconic characters.[74] Many stories stell of isolated young elephants returning to a close-knit community, such as The Elephantâ(TM)s Child from Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories (1902), Dumbo (1942) or The Saggy Baggy Elephant (1947).[75] Other elephant heroes given human qualities include Laurent de Brunhoff's anthropomorphic Babar (1935), David McKee's Elmer (1989) and Dr. Seuss's Horton (1940).[75] More than other exotic animals, elephants in fiction are surrogates for humans,[75] with their concern for the community and each other depicted as something to aspire to.[76]

See also
        Mammals portal

        * Crushing by elephant
        * Dwarf elephant
        * Elephant sanctuary
        * Elephants in Kerala culture
        * History of elephants in Europe
        * Temple elephant
        * White elephant
        * Year of the Elephant/Al-Fil


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