The Phrase IS the Concept: Richard Dawkins’ Originator Delusion

By Mike Sutton.

A mutual embarrassment of seemingly endless science websites, scholarly books and

Dawkins is not the selfish gene originator

Dawkins is not the selfish gene originator

journal articles all confidently assert that Richard Dawkins coined the phrase selfish gene and is therefore the originator of the basic concept (e.g here    here   here   ,here    here   ,here    and here ).  However, they are all mistaken.

My unique deployment of the powerful and new  internet dating research technique proves beyond doubt that Dawkins did not coin either the selfish gene phrase or invent the basic concept.

Timeline for publication of the selfish gene phrase and basic concept.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 1975 – Donald, T. Campbell publishes the phrase selfish gene in an article on biological evolution. He is the third person to use it.
  4. 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’. Dawkins (30th Anniversary 3rd edition in 2006) does mention and cite both Hamilton and Alexander on several occasions, but (a) does not credit Hamilton as the originator of the title of his book (b) does not cite Hamilton’s 1969 paper which coined the term and (c) (pp. 325-329) analyses citations of Hamilton’s work (p.328) because he says that Hamilton is not cited as much as he should be. This really is odd scholarship, because we know that Dawkins himself never cited Hamilton as the originator of the selfish gene phrase and basic concept when he wrote that in 1976. In addition to publicly scrutinizing the citation scores of the unheralded scholar who really has priority over the selfish gene, Dawkins further labors to explain in some detail that he found one of his own unpublished stencilled student lecture bibliographies from 1970 that he claims proves that he did not get the idea of the genetical theory of social behavior from within E.O. Wilson’s 1975 book entitled Sociobiology. Dawkins does cite Alexander’s 1974 paper but makes no mention that this author also ‘anticipated’ him with the selfish gene phrase. Finally, Richard Dawkins completely fails to cite Campbell’s paper, which was published only the year before Dawkins’ famous book. Perhaps Dawkins’ (2006) greatest unintended ironic treatment of Hamilton is where on page 317 he says that Hamilton typically forgets his own origination of ideas and needs to be reminded of it. Sadly, this is not a confession on Dawkins’s own part because he is merely pointing out that Bartz is often wrongly attributed as the originator of one of Hamilton’s theories. Coincidentally Hamilton had ‘anticipated Bartz, exactly as he did Dawkins, by seven years!
  5. – 2005 – On reading his INTRODUCTION TO THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dawkins 2006) of the Selfish Gene anyone would be forgiven for assuming that Dawkins must have coined the term selfish gene. Because for several pages Dawkins explains how we should emphasize one word or the other in the phrase to understand what he means by it. He explains how his publishers wanted him to change it so that the title of his book would be more upbeat and goes to great lengths to explain what he means by selfish. And he runs through all kinds of alternative title that he might have used instead. But nowhere in all this self-celebration of the book and the poignancy and meaning of its title does he ever admit that the phrase is not one of his own creation.

The unique critical article on this issue, complete with full Harvard style  references, can be found over at the BestThinking website: here

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