Richard Dawkins wishes he'd named his "The Selfish Gene" book "The Immortal Gene" instead

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I wish he’d named it that too because the title chosen was patently unscientific. And it was wrong - we now understand that a lot of DNA codes for gene expression and therefore determines which of the genes in our DNA actually get used. The picture is far more complicated than it appeared to be when I was at U in the early 70s.
Mind you, you can argue with “the immortal gene”, it is just a bit misleading rather than a complete misrepresentation.


I wish he’d named it that too, since the idea that genes are somehow selfish is an absurdity that made its way into popular culture thanks to his book. Of course “The immortal gene” is a pretty stupid title as well. There is basically no effort at all to distinguish between a class of genes and token instances of genes. “The immoral gene” makes as much sense as “the immortal human.” Sure, I’m going to die, but there will just be another human, so humans are immortal. right?

Well of course not. Individual instances of genes come and go, and classes of genes come and go too. I guess genes are immortal in the same way a, say, the plays of Shakespeare are immortal, but it’s a pretty misleading metaphor to use for elements of living tissue. And even then that’s a stretch, maybe we could say that squares are immortal because there will likely always be four-sided figures. Do we say salt is immortal because Na seems unlikely to stop bonding with Cl?

In short, shut up Richard Dawkins, I hate you.


It’s a loss to the world that Stephen Jay Gould died so young. He not only was up to the task of dealing with Dawkins when debating their differences of understanding of evolutionary biology (and it was in those early Dawkins/Gould debates that the fact that Dawkins was a red-faced huffing badger was made very clear), but Gould was just just a much more humane person who would have done a nice job cleaning up the messes Dawkins makes when he wanders off into domains besides evolutionary biology with his huffing badger ways. In short, Dawkins, huffing badger.


Seconded, thirded, fourthed. If that were possible.

Also in his writing S J Gould treated religion with respect, which is why he was able to have sensible discussions with e.g. Jesuits. I mean, God knows I’m an atheist but there are ways and ways of letting people know, and telling them that they are “not bright” is one of the least constructive.


Dawkins gives badgers a bad rap.


In my copy of the book (30th anniversary edition paperback), Dawkins makes it clear in the footnotes that he really regrets choosing the “selfish” title.

Of course, had he done so, we may have been spared the innumerable people who failed to get past page 2, and think that somehow genetics justifies neo-liberal thatcherite selfishness. Among who, we could include a certain Viscount Ridley, author of unreadable books, and chairman of the disastrously managed failed bank Northern Rock.


Yep. Dawkins’ focus on his favorite side-issue of religion being the root of all evil (it takes a special kind of vitriol to create a polemic against religion titled Root of all Evil) is a tribalist outlook - turning outward to attack perceived enemies of science (and usually flailing at the air).

Gould wrote Mismeasure of Man which was much introspective about the dangers of the abuse of science and how science could be abused to further racism.

While there may be some reasons to disagree with Gould’s NOMA (or at least qualify), it’s at least a way to bridge a dialog. The Dawkins style of harping and accusing imagined enemies of participating in literally the worst thing ever is not the way to do so.


Dawkins is the gift that keeps on giving. He recently made a really creepy tweet about Queen Rania of Jordan that’s since been deleted.


Selfie gene, I guess I didn’t get one then.
What’s with kids these day always wanting to be in photographs?
Photos with me in 'em steal my soul and look ugly.
I fail to see an upside.


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The important point is you’ve found a way to feel superior to both of them.


I’m certainly not superior to either Dawkins nor especially Gould (who was a giant and one of my heroes), and definitely don’t feel superior. I may have superior reading skills than you, but the important point is you’ve found a way to feel superior to me.


That’s precisely the gesture that I engaged on completing my comment.

Yep, he’s a dick.

So rename the fucker.

Names are meaningless when unspoken.

I would have named the book “Memes, etc.”

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But, who would want to read Dawkins’ thoughts on Gene Pitney?

Always thought Dawkins was an erudite, upstanding fellow myself. Can’t understand the flaring up of character attacks every time he’s mentioned.

Mind you, the South Park guys don’t like him and they’re like the ultimate arbiters of fair and balanced character assessment so what do I know?

Are perhaps the majority of y’all what don’t like him either North American and/or speaking from a perspective which values religion in some way? Don’t know why it has struck me that that is the case, but it has.


I’ll never forget when he a did a guest post here on BB. He seriously jumped into the comments and starting individually addressing every criticism, and then came back the next day and continued! Like he’d been skulking around brooding over the comments thread on Boing Boing, and had come up with a few real zingers he couldn’t just let go of…