Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 30 of 47

Thread: The science writings of Richard Dawkins

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057

    The science writings of Richard Dawkins

    Fairly recently I took part in a discussion on FaceBook about Richard Dawkins. I commented that I admire him as a writer because he is amazingly articulate and lucid, and clearly knows (and is passionate about) his science.

    Pretty much everyone else in the thread had nothing but vitriol to contribute. It was actually quite scary stuff. One person misquoted him; when I pointed out what he had actually said, the misquoter acknowledged her mistake but someone else said (almost in so many words) that it's okay to misquote him because he's indefensible. Another called him a racist, and clearly thought they were under no obligation to provide evidence to support this

    Now I know it would be against forum rules to discuss his atheism. That's fine; it doesn't interest me, although I suspect this might be what rattled the cages of some of his detractors (to put it politely). The one thing that bothered me was that one person said, quoting from memory, "I've studied genetics, and The Selfish Gene is magical thinking."

    Does anybody else think this? By "anybody else" I mean, of course, anybody who knows a bit about genetics and who has an informed opinion of Dawkins' work?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    The Wild West
    Posts
    9,418
    I only have a few quotes by Howard L. Kaye from his book The Social Meaning of Modern Biology: From Social Darwinism to Sociobiology. He is apparently not impressed with Dawkins' popularizations. But then, I don't know if Kaye is any more respected than Dawkins in the applicable scientific community.


    "What Dawkins and Barash are thus popularizing is not objective science but their own metaphysical assumptions, philosophical positions, and social visions."


    "Dawkins's myth of the selfish gene and its hellish creation is, of course, scientifically false, as well as being morally abhorrent. Dawkins's genetics, as other scientists have observed, are impossible... the selfish gene is neither selfish nor a gene."


    "Dawkins's theory of culture is a disaster, empirically and morally... Dawkins has transformed culture into a meaningless and oppressive tyrant, an indoctrinator of human 'survival machines' so that they will behave selfishly on behalf of virulent memes."
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Thanks for the reply, Cougar.

    Criticism of Dawkins does seem to take the form of unsupported assertions and a lot of ad hom. Perhaps some of the former has some backup but I haven't seen it.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    475
    Dawkins is very polarizing among the general population and in the scientific community for reasons that can not be discussed here. His science, despite his many critics, is solid and I don't think that any unbiased assessment of his scientific work could refute that.

    The Selfish Gene is a favorite target of his critics that already dislike him for those reasons that can not be discussed. In my experience they fall into two general categories. Those that do not understand the concepts that the metaphor "The Selfish Gene" was coined to denote, despite the numerous readily available good descriptions. This group is composed largely of non biologists. The 2nd common group is people who do understand the scientific concepts but feel that the metaphor is so awful that that alone is reason enough to discredit him.

    There is still some disagreement among scientists in relevant fields with some championing group selection. But so far there has not been a real life example discovered that could be accurately modeled by group selection but not by gene selection (the view that Dawkins lays out in The Selfish Gene). And at the same time there have been very few cases, period, of accurate predictions having been made by other models. The gene selection view is, so far, very well supported by the evidence. Gene selection models have been very succesful at making predictions and at making sense of biological phenomena that previously were not understood.

    Actually, there are very few, creditable anyway, biologists that would deny the validity of the gene selection view. Those that think other types of selection that operate at different "higher" levels, like at the organism or group level, are valid typically do not think that they preclude gene selection, but that they occur in addition to gene selection.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Thanks very much for that, Darrell.

    I think we can safely refer to groups who have a vested interest in Dawkins being wrong, and who are determined to find him wrong even if he, well, just plain isn't wrong. We don't have to say any more about these groups in this discussion, though.

    So we can sum it up that gene selection is mainstream, and anything else is ATM, or at least needs more evidence?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    The Wild West
    Posts
    9,418
    Kaye apparently falls into Darrell's second group: people who do understand the scientific concepts but feel that the metaphor is so awful that that alone is reason enough to discredit him. And Kaye's criticism is clearly not for "reasons that can not be discussed" here, since he also said:


    "We live in a society and a world ordered and shaped by science, yet we [well, not we] still desperately cling to values based on religious beliefs and myths utterly destroyed by the findings of modern science. Molecular biology, by closing the last loopholes in Darwinian theory (the physical nature of heredity and the origin of variation), has delivered the death blow to all religious beliefs and their philosophical substitutes (eg., dialectical materialism and the 'scientistic progressism' of Spencer, Teilhard de Chardin, and the biological humanists), by destroying the 'anthropocentric illusion' upon which all 'animisms' are based... Wrongly blaming the messenger for the bad news, people have become increasingly alienated from and hostile toward science and the rationality for which it stands."
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Interesting stuff, Cougar.

    I don't quite get Kaye's vehemence and negativity, though. When the Big Bang and Steady State theories seemed like equal contenders, did Fred Hoyle (for instance) describe the opposing view with words like "hellish", "tyrant", "morally abhorrent" and so on?

    Or is Kaye one of those people who think "selfish gene" means "being genetically predisposed towards being selfish"? If so, why?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    The Wild West
    Posts
    9,418
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    I don't quite get Kaye's vehemence and negativity, though.
    He is rather vehement, isn't he. I guess he just seeks more precision in these popularizations, which should not mislead readers into getting the wrong ideas.


    "Even to speak of natural selection as a 'process' can be imprecise and misleading; natural selection is only a statistical artifact, not a set of operations and actions organized and directed toward some end."


    Physicist/cosmologist Tony Rothman expresses the same idea....


    "More and more scientists are now engaging in the popularization of their own fields. I wholeheartedly support this trend for the simple reason that scientists know their turf better than journalists. At the same time I am disturbed to see a growing gap between the standards upheld by scientists when they face other scientists and the standards they uphold when they face the public... [saying] things they would never try to get away with among colleagues."
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    475
    @ Cougar,

    I think I was a little sloppy. I don't mean to imply that I think there are only two groups that all of Dawkins critics fit into, just that a large majority do fit those general categories. I am not familiar with Kaye so can't comment on him directly at the moment.

    @ Paul Beardsley

    Yes, gene selection is mainstream, but not all other selection models are ATM. There are several that are legitimate science but, yes, they need more evidence. It seems possible that some other model(s) could turn out to be accurate, i.e. they are plausible. But that wouldn't invalidate gene selection, it would be in addition to it.

    Among those that don't understand the science the issues people have typically seem to be either that they think Dawkins' is alleging agency of some sort to genes, or they have "philosophical" issues with the implications gene selection, evolution in general, has for their world view. Among the relevant scientists the argument is whether or not it is all gene level selection (Dawkins' view), or whether selection also occurs at other levels.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    So basically Dawkins is Newton, but there might be an Einstein around the corner?

    I can understand people disliking certain aspects of Dawkins' approach. See this famous not family friendly clip:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2Aw9UGYNsA

    Just deleted some further thoughts that I know would not be acceptable here.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    475
    Okay, I took a little time to look into Kaye and his views on Richard Dawkins's popular writings a bit. Obviously not an exhaustive review of him, but what I've looked at fits a very familiar pattern.

    Kaye gives every indication of thinking that Richard Dawkins intent in writing The Selfish Gene was to provide ways or reasons for how we ought to behave. For example, using the quotes Cougar already provided, Kaye talks about Dawkins popularizing his "[own] philosophical positions, and social visions." This is wrong. The Selfish Gene, and Dawkins's other popular science books, are an attempt to explain science, not social commentary. Besides the fact that Dawkins has corrected such criticisms numerous times, all you have to do is actually read the book to see for yourself. Kaye is making a naturalistic fallacy, and assuming that Dawkins is too.

    Kaye is definitely in the group that does not understand the science (no particular reason he should, he is a sociologist), and thinks (or pretends) that Dawkins metaphor, "the selfish gene," is intended to be literal. Which is ridiculous. Kaye finds the false assumptions he has made about Dawkins's selfish gene concept to be morally reprehensible. This of course has nothing to do with the science. Dawkins was describing the way a natural phenomenon appears to occur (solidly based on good science), Kaye interprets Dawkins as making social commentary.

    "Dawkins's myth of the selfish gene and its hellish creation is, of course, scientifically false(1), as well as being morally abhorrent(2). Dawkins's genetics, as other scientists have observed, are impossible(3)... the selfish gene is neither selfish nor a gene.(4)"
    (1) The science the metaphor is intended to denote is as true as the claim that there are no invisible pink unicorns in my office right now. This clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the science, and a too literal interpretation of the metaphor that is obviously silly.

    (2) Statements like that really give the game away. This makes it clear that Kaye's beef is not about the science anyway. Morality has nothing to do with explanations of natural selection and any implications of deriving prescriptions from Dawkins's explanation are Kaye's own inventions. Read the book.

    (3) This is misleading to such a degree it seems unlikely to be due to anything but willful ignorance or lying. There may indeed be some scientists who claim gene level selection is invalid. Some of them might even be biologists in a relevant field. But they are the clear exception among their peers. As I've said before there is legitimate debate that other types of selection may also be valid, but not that gene selection is invalid. In other words, it may one day be shown that Dawkins is wrong that selection takes place only at the level of genes, that is far from clear yet, but given the large amount of evidence in support of it, it is extremely unlikely that selection at the level of genes will turn out to be invalid.

    (4) Again, demonstrates a ridiculously literal interpretation of the metaphor and a lack of understanding of the science. If people don't like the metaphor that's one thing, literary criticism. If you want to claim that Dawkins is a poor communicator because that metaphor sucks, okay. But it has nothing to do with the science.

    Critics like Kaye always leave me wondering if they have ulterior motives. And of course there is that other thing that Dawkins is (in)famous for that has given so many people strong motivation to criticize him for. The indignation Kaye displays is suspiciously similar to that commonly displayed by people that feel that other thing has been disrespected, and that disrespect of that thing is rude or even unethical.

    Ignorance does not seem to be a valid excuse for someone like Kaye. He is a scholar. Before leveling such criticisms at someone in a field outside your expertise an intellectually honest scholar should make the effort to understand what it is he is criticizing. This isn't really that hard to understand. What is hard to understand is how, if he did read the book, and he did make the effort to understand the science, did Kaye come away with such an inaccurate understanding of it. And how honest is it to continue to level the same kind of criticisms when Dawkins has repeatedly explained that they are wrong about their assumed interpretations, and his intentions.

    Shorter, Kaye may be a competent sociologist, I have no idea, but he does not seem competent to criticize Dawkins's on matters of biology. And considering the books he has written I find it amusing that he criticizes others about writing popular science books.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Thanks Darrell. An excellent analysis.

    A sociologist misunderstanding science? Now I've seen everything!

    But in retrospect it is not surprising. The footnotes of Selfish Gene are littered with examples of people who determinedly do not get it. In the case of Mary Midgley, we have an example of someone who has spectacularly failed to get it (perhaps the best ever example of an "epic fail") but who is nevertheless pleased to attack the thing she does not understand whilst congratulating her own imagined cleverness: "Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract or biscuits teleological."

    More seriously, thanks Darrell for that excellent analysis.

    It makes me wonder, though, what is it about biology that brings out the aggressive unwisdom in otherwise sensible people?

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Posts
    18,186
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    But in retrospect it is not surprising. The footnotes of Selfish Gene are littered with examples of people who determinedly do not get it. In the case of Mary Midgley, we have an example of someone who has spectacularly failed to get it (perhaps the best ever example of an "epic fail") but who is nevertheless pleased to attack the thing she does not understand whilst congratulating her own imagined cleverness: "Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract or biscuits teleological."
    I think she made perfectly valid point. In fact, I was going to say something very similar. I'm not arguing the science, just the phrase. I would expect people to "not get it" if you use a phrase like "selfish gene." That implies a gene has a will, and can choose to be selfish. No. There is a physical process involved, and it should be described that way. If you don't want to mislead, choose your descriptions carefully.

    And I'm not picking this phrase out specifically. I've seen too many misconceptions that started with something like this. I've had too many arguments because of those misconceptions. Evolution doesn't have a goal, and genes aren't selfish.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

    I say there is an invisible elf in my backyard. How do you prove that I am wrong?

    The Leif Ericson Cruiser

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    New Zealand
    Posts
    10,886
    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    I think she made perfectly valid point. In fact, I was going to say something very similar. I'm not arguing the science, just the phrase. I would expect people to "not get it" if you use a phrase like "selfish gene." That implies a gene has a will, and can choose to be selfish. No. There is a physical process involved, and it should be described that way. If you don't want to mislead, choose your descriptions carefully.

    And I'm not picking this phrase out specifically. I've seen too many misconceptions that started with something like this. I've had too many arguments because of those misconceptions. Evolution doesn't have a goal, and genes aren't selfish.
    I see your point, but it's one thing to jump to a conclusion on an (allegedly) misleading name/description; it's another to go on to make public statements about it without attempting to understand it further.

    Did Mary Midgley respond merely to the name "selfish gene" or did she actually try to understand what the concept was?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Midgley

    ... The paper criticized Dawkins' concepts, but was judged by its targets to be intemperate and personal in tone, and as having misunderstood Dawkins' ideas. Midgley disputed this view, arguing that while Dawkins purports to be talking about genes—that is, chemical arrangements—he nonetheless slides over to saying that "we are born selfish ...
    Last edited by pzkpfw; 2014-Jul-04 at 01:01 AM. Reason: Add Quote
    Measure once, cut twice. Practice makes perfect.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    The Wild West
    Posts
    9,418
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    Thanks Darrell. An excellent analysis.
    I agree. Thanks for the review, Darrell.

    And also Van Rijn, for adding your thoughts.
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Posts
    3,106
    I read The Selfish Gene many years ago, but the metaphor was spectacularly clear from the start iirc, so I find the criticisms cited misplaced. Also true, though, that the use of metaphor is one of the main causes of confusion wrt natural selection and evolution, as the loose language employed so often implies or seems to imply agency or purpose even when the author knows better.

    Richard Dawkins himself, though, is quite the polemicist and, like many who discuss world views, he often forgets that rarely does anyone change an opinion when berated for being silly. Being right, or thinking oneself so, should never lead to the idea that now everyone else must catch up instantly and agree. Advocacy of this sort is often its own worst enemy.

    ...

    On the selfishness front in general, and the many naturalistic fallacies that arise around natural selection, I'd say the dichotomy of selfish vs altruistic behavior has been eroded now to the point of being invalid. There is enough science now in the areas of theory of mind and neurological mapping that what was previously defined as purely altruistic can be seen as actions in favor of an extended self, so the definitions are more blurred and not at all mutually exclusive.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    I think she made perfectly valid point. In fact, I was going to say something very similar. I'm not arguing the science, just the phrase. I would expect people to "not get it" if you use a phrase like "selfish gene." That implies a gene has a will, and can choose to be selfish. No. There is a physical process involved, and it should be described that way. If you don't want to mislead, choose your descriptions carefully.

    And I'm not picking this phrase out specifically. I've seen too many misconceptions that started with something like this. I've had too many arguments because of those misconceptions. Evolution doesn't have a goal, and genes aren't selfish.
    Her response was perfectly reasonable for someone who had not agreed to read and review the book. The book itself is abundantly clear in its explanation of exactly what is meant. And it's worth noting that "selfish" is not an emotion or something that implies will, it is a behaviour, a behaviour that genes undoubtedly exhibit. We are all familiar with expressions such as "the behaviour of air molecules in a confined space"; why should we have a problem with using such not-particularly-metaphorical language with genes?

    We use that sort of language in science all the time. It is rarely problematic, although if you were determined to be pedantic and obtuse, you could have a field day:

    Excited electrons. "What, like they think it's Christmas tomorrow?"
    Big Bang. "Like there was anyone to hear it? And how, pray, is this sound going to propagate across empty space? What do you mean, it didn't happen in empty space?"
    Charm. "A subatomic quark can have charm???"
    Naked Ape. "Has Desmond not noticed that we're the one species of ape that actually chooses to wear clothes?"

    And so on. (I wish Mary Midgley had included "electrons cannot be excited" in her list.)

    The point is, a lot of scientific words are borrowed from everyday language. If there is any scope for misunderstanding, the responsible scientist will explain exactly what he or she means. Dawkins does this right from the first chapter of The Selfish Gene. He uses other terms such as "altruism" - and here he makes it clear that he's talking about the result, not the intent. When he uses analogies (such as meiosis being pages mixed from books) he is clear about how far the analogy goes and how far it does not go.

    When somebody is as articulate as Dawkins, and goes to such lengths to avoid misunderstandings, it is at best a disservice, at worst downright insulting, when a "reviewer" like Midgley should muddy the waters like this. Almost as if she had an axe to grind...

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Olympia, WA
    Posts
    30,655
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    When somebody is as articulate as Dawkins, and goes to such lengths to avoid misunderstandings, it is at best a disservice, at worst downright insulting, when a "reviewer" like Midgley should muddy the waters like this. Almost as if she had an axe to grind...
    Actually, I was thinking about it last night, and I completely disagree that Dawkins goes to any great lengths to avoid misunderstandings. I'll admit I haven't read the book, but I'm not really talking about the book. I'm talking about in general. I've come to think that he wants people to misunderstand him, particularly when he's writing about something scientifically sound. He wants them to argue against a strawman, because the people who "count" will know that his opposition is arguing against a strawman and therefore make him look more right when he's arguing certain more dubious conclusions about social issues.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Posts
    3,106
    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Actually, I was thinking about it last night, and I completely disagree that Dawkins goes to any great lengths to avoid misunderstandings. I'll admit I haven't read the book, but I'm not really talking about the book. I'm talking about in general. I've come to think that he wants people to misunderstand him, particularly when he's writing about something scientifically sound. He wants them to argue against a strawman, because the people who "count" will know that his opposition is arguing against a strawman and therefore make him look more right when he's arguing certain more dubious conclusions about social issues.
    I respect him as a scientist, but as a pubic figure he really gets on my nerves. Way too strident.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Actually, I was thinking about it last night, and I completely disagree that Dawkins goes to any great lengths to avoid misunderstandings. I'll admit I haven't read the book, but I'm not really talking about the book. I'm talking about in general. I've come to think that he wants people to misunderstand him, particularly when he's writing about something scientifically sound. He wants them to argue against a strawman, because the people who "count" will know that his opposition is arguing against a strawman and therefore make him look more right when he's arguing certain more dubious conclusions about social issues.
    I am certain that you would not hold this opinion if you actually read the book.

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Quote Originally Posted by Hlafordlaes View Post
    I respect him as a scientist, but as a pubic figure he really gets on my nerves. Way too strident.
    You are not alone in this. Personally, I don't have a problem with this, but I can understand people who do.

    I sometimes see him as in the position of a doctor who is trying to encourage a tribal leader to adopt obstetric practices that will result in reduced pain for mothers giving birth, a greater survival rate for the babies and so on. The tribal leader listens patiently, then condescendingly replies, "Everybody knows it's the stork that brings babies."

    I think it is remarkable that he is as patient as he is.
    Last edited by Paul Beardsley; 2014-Jul-04 at 03:54 PM.

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Posts
    3,106
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    You are not alone in this. Personally, I don't have a problem with this, but I can understand people who do.

    I sometimes see him as in the position of a doctor who is trying to encourage a tribal leader to adopt obstetric practices that will result in reduced pain for mothers giving birth, a greater survival rate for the babies and so on. The tribal leader listens patiently, then condescendingly replies, "Everybody knows it's the stork that brings babies."

    I think it is remarkable that he is as patient as he is.
    On that topic, which shall remain oblique, I think it is more effective to provide tools and seed doubts. In general, you catch more flies with honey, so it isn't the content per se as much as the tone and delivery that I dislike. Sam Harris has recently spoken out about the danger of being anti-anything as opposed to being a non-subscriber who merely advocates reason and evidence.

    Hard to say more without going astray. At any rate, in terms of biology, his work is still well regarded, afaik.

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    475
    @ Paul and Cougar, thanks for the kind words.

    It takes some fairly serious effort to talk about anything without using words that have some sense of attributing agency. That is just the way our language has evolved, very likely because of our biological evolutionary history. We seem to be predisposed to attribute agency to things. But, we use such words in contexts where we are not attributing agency all the time. It is not a rare or surprising thing. Everybody does it many times every day. And in this particular case it isn't like Dawkins just left it hanging out there. Right from the get go there was a book with hundreds of pages devoted to explaining it, attached directly to it.

    I think it is reasonable to expect that some people may misinterpret such metaphors. But I also think that the most reasonable response should be a question like "do you really mean that?" Or "what does that mean?" Especially if you are a journalist or scholar who is thinking about critiquing it. You'd think that journalists in particular would well understand creative use of language. Is there really no room in science for creative use of language? I think that would be dreadful. I'd rather deal with all the misunderstandings, genuine or feigned.

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Olympia, WA
    Posts
    30,655
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    I am certain that you would not hold this opinion if you actually read the book.
    Surely he knows how many people won't read the book.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Surely he knows how many people won't read the book.
    To be honest, Gillian, I was astonished that you of all people could have written post 18. One does not begin by assuming underhand tactics on the part of a science populariser - we don't do "guilty until proven innocent". In the case of Dawkins, there is no evidence that this is how he operates, and abundant evidence that he does not.

  26. #26
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Posts
    14,779
    I haven't read anything by Dawkins. My impression was that there
    was something off-putting about him, and without a compelling
    reason to investigate further, I didn't.

    There is no clue in the little video clip linked in post #10 what Dawkins
    said that elicited Tyson's comments, but Gillianren's comments seem
    to mirror Tyson's very closely.

    I agree with everything everyone has said so far in this terrific thread--
    at least to the extent that my limited knowledge permits agreement.

    I think "selfish gene" is a really poor choice of term, but I might have
    chosen it myself, for the same reasons, if I had written on the subject.

    -- Jeff, in Minneapolis
    http://www.FreeMars.org/jeff/

    "I find astronomy very interesting, but I wouldn't if I thought we
    were just going to sit here and look." -- "Van Rijn"

    "The other planets? Well, they just happen to be there, but the
    point of rockets is to explore them!" -- Kai Yeves

  27. #27
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Olympia, WA
    Posts
    30,655
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    To be honest, Gillian, I was astonished that you of all people could have written post 18. One does not begin by assuming underhand tactics on the part of a science populariser - we don't do "guilty until proven innocent". In the case of Dawkins, there is no evidence that this is how he operates, and abundant evidence that he does not.
    But that's the thing. I don't think he is a science popularizer. I think his tactics are deliberately antagonistic to a very large group of people who could be reached to understand science better but don't feel like being insulted by him.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  28. #28
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    11,057
    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    But that's the thing. I don't think he is a science popularizer. I think his tactics are deliberately antagonistic to a very large group of people who could be reached to understand science better but don't feel like being insulted by him.
    I've said all I have to say about this line of discussion.

  29. #29
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Posts
    5,065
    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    But that's the thing. I don't think he is a science popularizer. I think his tactics are deliberately antagonistic to a very large group of people who could be reached to understand science better but don't feel like being insulted by him.
    How would you know if you haven't read the author's work? The best you can say would be "the, quite possibly biased, second hand information i received about his tactics suggests...". The issue isn't whether his tactics are good or bad, but whether one can judge that without having read the work whilst knowing that the work is quite polarizing and hence any second hand information is likely biased one way or the other.

  30. #30
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Olympia, WA
    Posts
    30,655
    Based on interviews. Based on what he chooses to title his books. Based on the fact that he must know that there are certain books titles (and I'm not thinking of The Selfish Gene here) that are basically designed to antagonize people, yet he chose that title anyway. To me, a science popularizer wouldn't title a book something that's just going to get a lot of people to dig in their heels. He may explain what he means better in the book itself, but it's frankly too late.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •