The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition Paperback – 16 Mar 2006
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Dawkins's first book, The Selfish Gene, was a smash hit... Best of all, Dawkins laid out this biology - some of it truly subtle - in stunningly lucid prose. (It is, in my view, the best work of popular science ever written.) (H. Allen Orr, New York Review of Books)
The Selfish Gene is a classic. (Robin McKie, The Observer)
A genuine cultural landmark of our time. (The Independent)
Review from previous edition The sort of popular science writing that makes the reader feel like a genius. (New York Times)
Anniversary Edition. Voted 'Author of the Year' at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007See all Product description
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At the most basic level in this case it is true that "the phrase or term IS the concept" and this is where Dawkins lets himself down because it's merely a clever distraction for him to argue (as he has done a decade ago in defense of accusations that he he should cede priority to Hamilton) that his notion of selfish gene is different to Hamilton's notion. This defense is a red herring that has worked, to date, to silence his detractors on this issue. It is such a fishy defense because, at the basic level Dawkins and Hamilton share the exact same concept that is encapsulated by the phrase selfish gene. Namely that genes do what they do to pass on their characteristics into the future and that the organisms that carry them (e.g.a worm or a human etc) are merely vessels (or perhaps vassals is a better word) for the natural selection of those genes.
The problem with this book is that just like the first edition Dawkins cleverly fosters his own Dawkins myth that he coined the phrase by failing to admit that he never did so, because Hamilton got there seven years earlier.
I have a first edition copy of this book and I bought this 30th Anniversary copy on Amazon in the hope that Dawkins would after 37 years have admitted that others so obviously influenced him and so do have unquestionable priority for the selfish gene phrase and therefore for the most basic concept.
What Dawkins, weirdly, completely fails to admit in this book is that in 1969 William, D. Hamilton presented a paper on selfish and altruistic behavior, which includes the exact phrase selfish gene, at the Smithsonian Institute Annual Symposium. Hamilton then published the paper in 1971. In coining the phrase, in this 1969 paper and its 1971 publication, Hamilton is proven to be the originator of the phrase as well as the basic selfish gene concept.
Here is the selfish gene priority timeline which is taken from a full critical review of Dawkins as an invented originator, which can be found via a link published on the home page of my website: Dysology
1969 - William, D. Hamilton presents a paper on selfish and altruistic behavior, which includes the phrase selfish gene, at the Smithsonian Institute Annual Symposium. He publishes the paper in 1971. In coining the phrase in this 1969 paper Hamilton is proven to be the originator of the basic selfish gene concept.
1974 - Richard, D. Alexander publishes the phrase selfish gene in an article on the evolution of social behavior. He becomes the second person to use it.
1975 - Donald, T. Campbell publishes the phrase selfish gene in an article on biological evolution. He is the third person to use it.
1976 - Richard Dawkins comes fourth in the selfish gene stakes. He publishes the first edition of his best selling book The Selfish Gene. Weirdly, the book makes no mention at all of the fact that three earlier scientists `anticipated' Dawkins with both the phrase and concept `selfish gene'.
2006 - Dawkins 30th Anniversary Edition of his 1 million copy best seller The Selfish Gene still fails to admit that neither the book's title nor its basic concept were coined or originated by Dawkins.
Most ironically, given all the selfish, un-cited, replication of the discoveries of genuine originators and genuine great thinkers in science, in The Selfish Gene, Chapter 2 is even called `The Replicators'. In that chapter we can find further evidence for why uninformed readers might be drawn into concluding that Dawkins is a great thinker in science because surely he must have coined the word replicator and invented the most basic biological concept, because, for all the World, Dawkins appears to genuinely believe that he is personally coining the term for the first time (Dawkins, 1976, p.15):
`At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator. It may not necessarily have been the biggest or most complex molecule around, but it had the extraordinary property of being able to create copies of itself.'
Why on Earth did Dawkins write "we will call it" when the same basic concept was already called a replicator in the 1940s and many times since in the published literature? Furthermore, why does Dawkins give the word a capital letter and italicize it as though it is a radical new discovery? Most importantly of all, why does he not cite anyone who used the word before, as we would expect from such a widely read scientific scholar as Dawkins? After all, as said, the same basic idea of genes and DNA being replicated was already in the literature years earlier. Among many examples, Jacob at al (1963) provided a diagram of what they call a `DNA replicator' and Lurie (1969) writes:
`This substance combines and activates a replicator gene, allowing replication of DNA attached to it.'
Thanks to his self-serving impression that he is the originator of this concept and term, yet another embarrassing Dawkinist myth abounds in typically embarrassing numbers in the literature. This time its the myth that Richard Dawkins coined the word replicator (e.g.: Hull, 1980; Weibull 1997; Gross 2013; p. 270). If you simply enter the search term "Dawkins coined replicator" into Google and you will begin to get an idea of the extent of this pervasive science myth - even in dozens of 'expert' books on evolution and sociobiology.
I think it's clear that Dawkins has got some explaining to do. Perhaps he'll address the Myth of Dawkins in his next selfish gene edition of the replication of ideas and discoveries of others?
Alexander, R. D. (1974) The Evolution of Social Behavior. Paper at the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science symposium "The Human Prospect: Heilbroner's Challenge to Religion and Science," Washington, D.C., October 23-24, 1974. Published in Johnston, R. F, Frank, P. W. and Michener, C. D. (eds.) Annual review of ecology and systematics - Volume 5 - Page 343.
Campbell, D. T. (1975), THE CONFLICT BETWEEN SOCIAL AND BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION AND THE CONCEPT OF ORIGINAL SIN. Zygon, Journal of Religion and Science. 10: 234-249.
Gross, R. (2013) Being Human: Psychological and Philosophical Perspectives. Abingdon. Routledge.
Hamilton, W. D. ( 1971) Selection of Selfish and Altruistic Behaviour in Some Extreme Models. Paper delivered at the Smithsonian Institution Annual Symposium 14 - 16 May 1969. In Eisenberg, J. F., Dillon, W. S. (eds) Smithsonian Annual III. Man and Beast: Comparative Social Behaviour. Washington. Smithsonian Institution Press.
Hull, D. L. (1990) Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science. Chicago. Chicago University Press.
Jacob, F. Brenner, S. and Cuzin, F. (1963) On the Regulation of DNA Replication in Bacteria. Cold Spring Harbor Symp. Quant Biol. 28. 239-347.
Lurie, M. (1969) The Darwinian selection theory of antibody formation. Journal of Theoretical Biology. Volume 23, Issue 3, June 1969, Pages 380-386.
Weibull, J, W, (1997) Evolutionary game theory. Cambridge Mass. MIT Press.
In the second chapter the author seeks to take us through his understanding of the evolutionary theory. Key to his understanding are replicators, molecules that have the remarkable ability to replicate themselves. The chapter starts well with an explanation of the complexity of molecules. Atoms come together in a `definite invariant structure.' He goes on to tell us about the hemoglobin molecule and its complex and orderly structure which looks like a thorn bush. This is helpful and informative but suddenly we are taken on an amazing flight of fantasy where Professor Dawkins supposes these atoms fall into order, not by design or purpose, but by accident! His analogy being while you may not expect to win the lottery in a lifetime if you waited around millions of years you could win several times over. A more helpful analogy to understanding just how implausible it is that complex life should accidentally materialize would be: "if you set of an explosion in the Library of Congress, how likely is it that the Declaration of Independence would be produced as a consequence?"
I am not sure how easy it might be to miss the unscientific vocabulary that litters the narrative, terms such as: `a more complex possibility', `Must of', `must have', `probably not too far from the truth', `must have given rise to the primeval soup', `almost certainly', probably been an evolutionary trend' and so on. Unscientific much of Dawkins' story certainly is and his choice of analogy becomes even more peculiar when he turns to the writers of the Bible. Dawkins offers the strange notion that the translators of the Septuagint, the first seven books of the Bible, miss-translated the Bible, interpreting the Hebrew for young woman into the Greek word for virgin. Of course Dawkins is reinforcing the urban myth that somehow the prophecy that Jesus Christ would be born to a virgin is false. I cannot imagine, given his interest in opposing Christianity, that this is anything but deliberate. He must know that the correct translation from the Hebrew is young maiden, and in the cultural context of the time a young maiden was a virgin. What could Dawkins' motive be for seeking to discredit the Biblical account? Whatever the reason it reinforces my impression, revealed throughout Dawkins writing, that this scientist has an unrevealed agenda.
It is reasonable that Dawkins should use his writing to promote his political leanings and this book is no exception. He says, "The welfare state is probably the greatest altruistic system that the animal kingdom has ever known" (my italics). Put this statement alongside another of his political gems; "people who have more children than they are capable of rearing are probably too ignorant in most cases of malevolent exploitation"; before he goes on to blame leaders and politicians for mankind's mess. If you were looking for better insights into Dawkins' worldview, this is the book. It is his sincere belief that we, mankind, are large lumbering machines controlled by our genes. He explains how computers play chess, with programmers as their fathers, as we are survival machines, with genes being our creators. He invests effort in de-humanizing mankind who are referred to as `survival machines' throughout the book, a position necessary given his criticism of those who oppose abortion.
Interestingly much of the scientific writing corroborates the Biblical worldview that says God makes order out of chaos and designed the magnificent creation we see around us. The final sentence of the chapter called, `battle of the generations' is helpful as it supports the Bibles' insights to mankind's nature that says. `we are born into iniquity' (Psalm 51:5) and `wicked from our womb' (Job 1:21) when Dawkins says, " if there is a human moral to be drawn, it is that we must teach our children altruism, for we cannot expect it to be a part of their biological nature.
This book is not, as it claims, for anyone looking for insights into mankind's meaning and purpose. It has plenty of helpful biological information, for example in the last chapter we learn: `almost all genetic side effects are bad and a new mutation will normally spread only if its bad effects are outweighed by its good effects. If both good and bad effects apply to the whole body, the net effect can still be good for the body. But if the bad effects are on the body, and the good effects are on the gene alone, from the bodies point of view the net effect is all bad. This is an impressive admission by an author who professes the theory that proposes one species can change into another species. One of the cornerstones to the macro-evolutionary theory is genetic mutation. However, one of the fundamental flaws in the theory is that in mutations new information, required to make a new species, is not created. Dawkins, in his final chapter, mentions nothing of mutations adding more genetic information and reports, factually, that they do not further natural selection (page 237.)
The book illustrates many things. It details insights to the wonder of creation. It shows the leap of faith required to accept the idea that from nothing came the primeval soup, from which the complexity of life we see today is supposed to come (sic). It corroborates many of the Biblical accounts of human behaviour and how infinitely different we are from the animal kingdom. If ever a book shows that mankind by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18) then the `Selfish Gene' is it.
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