Richard Dawkins Did Not Coin the Phrase Selfish Gene and is Not the Originator of the Basic Concept. Moreover, Others are Asking Some Very Telling Questions About the Meme Concept and from Where Dawkins Really Got that Word.
Postscript 27th February 2014 - Further to the new discovery that Richard Dawkins neither originated the concept nor term 'selfish gene' I recently discovered that he is also an 'invented originator' of both the term 'replicator' and its biological concept Click Here to find out the hard facts as opposed to soft Dawkinian rhetoric.
Postscript 14th April 2013. As part of its drive to seek to improve its dreadful reputation for spreading myths and fallacies, Wikipedia is currently unethically engaged in deliberately and systematically plagiarizing the unique results of my original myth-busting work published solely here on Best Thinking, and then deliberately refusing to cite me as the originator of this brand new information that is busting decades old pervasive myths and fallacies and poor research. Wikipedia is editing-out myths and fallacies in its current text and inserting new and unique results discovered by my research, published here on Best Thinking. And yet Wikipedia pretends that its own editors discovered this new information. That is exactly what Wikipedia did when it changed the word “coined” to “used” with regard to the decades old Dawkins Myth, two weeks after this article was published. You can see what they are up to here, and read my arguments for why this is a socially toxic practice. Boycott plagiarism!
Richard Dawkins the Invented OriginatorAttribution
Despite a mutual embarrassment of seemingly endless science websites, scholarly books and peer reviewed journal articles all confidently asserting 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) my unique deployment of the internet dating research technique proves beyond doubt that he did not coin either the phrase or invent the basic concept.
Back in 1993 Richard Dawkins was called upon to answer questions about his priority over the concept of the selfish gene (See: Allegedly Dawkins 1993), but not the phrase. I argue in this peer-to-peer articlet that the problem with this failure to confront who has priority over the actual phrase is that, with regard to this particular case, at the most basic level the phrase is the concept; with one exception: anyone nicknaming a parsimonious man named Eugene as Selfish Gene.
The fact that the phrase is the concept holds true, whether we are talking about all genes being inherently selfish or such notions as selfish DNA, is one that neither Dawkins nor his critics have addressed. Issues of who has priority, therefore, at the most basic level at least should be focused upon who originated the phrase 'selfish gene' and that person was most certainly not Dawkins.
To date, despite my best efforts to find it, this issue does not appear to have been addressed by anyone anywhere. If I am mistaken about that I would be most grateful to any reader who knows otherwise if they would be kind enough to leave a full reference to the text I have missed in the comments section below.
In my opinion, if you read Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene - be it the first edition or his updated 30th anniversary edition - you would be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that Dawkins coined the phrase himself. Because (1) he never acknowledges the fact that three authors published the exact same phrase before him and (2) he, arguably, comes just about as rhetorically close to as it is possible to get to allow the illusion that he is the originator of the phrase without actually writing "I coined the phrase". Of course, I cannot know the mind of Dawkins, and so I'm not saying or implying that Dawkins does this deliberately, because that would be speculative, libelous and possibly unfair.
To date, Dawkins has failed to cede priority to both the selfish gene phrase and basic concept.
The true originator of the phrase selfish gene is William Hamilton, who coined the phrase in a paper he gave in 1969 – seven years before Dawkins. Hamilton published his paper in 1971 – five years before Dawkins took and published the phrase as the title of his best selling book.
Timeline for publication of the selfish gene phrase and basic concept.
- 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.His basic notion of the selfish gene using organisms for their perpetuation is the same as Dawkins'.
- 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, but his notion is of a selfishness gene making the organism selfish.
- 1975 - Donald, T. Campbell publishes the phrase selfish gene in an article on biological evolution. He is the third person to use it, but his notion is the same as Alexander's, namely of a selfishness gene.
- 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 the phrase and that Hamilton is originator of both the phrase and same basic concept of the ‘selfish gene’.
- 2000 - Writing an online obituary biography of Hamilton for The Independent Dawkins tells of how he once had to remind Hamilton that Bartz did not invent a particular theory that Hamilton liked, because Hamilton himself invented it (Note: in this newspaper article Dawkins actually refers to Bartz simply as "X" but in Dawkins' 30th anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene (2006) he reveals that "X" is in fact Bartz) . Disappointingly, Dawkins makes no mention of how everyone also believes that Dawkins invented Hamilton's selfish gene phrase and concept.
- 2005 - On reading his INTRODUCTION TO THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION of The Selfish Gene, which was actually published the following year, (Dawkins 2006) anyone should surely be forgiven for assuming - as so many do - 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 he goes to great lengths to explain what he actually means by selfish. Moreover, he runs through all kinds of alternative titles that he might have used instead. But nowhere in all this self-celebration of his book through the poignancy and meaning of its title does he ever admit that the phrase selfish gene is not his own.
- 2006 - Dawkins (Selfish Gene 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 originally wrote that in 1976 and Dawkins has failed to cite Hamilton as the true originator anytime before or after he re-published his Selfish Gene book with further commentary in 2006. In addition to publicly scrutinizing the 'peculiarly' low citation scores of the 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, which 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 them. Sadly, this is not a confession on Dawkins's own part that Hamilton is the originator of the Selfish Gene phrase and concept, because he is - with great unintended irony - actually pointing his finger at another scientist, Bartz, who he tells us is often wrongly attributed as the originator of another of Hamilton's theories. Coincidentally, Hamilton had 'anticipated Bartz, exactly as he did Dawkins, by seven years!
We might deploy the phrase: survival of the cited to sum up this selfish citation story.
Most importantly, untill now, nobody seems to have either published or even discovered the fact that Dawkins never coined the phrase selfish gene.
Here is Hamilton's (1971. p. 65) genuine coining of the phrase:
‘When any such equilibrium occurs it is likely that selection of modifiers that cause a changed reaction when like meets like will eventually resolve it, that is, will allow the selfish gene to complete its spread.’
The image below is of Alexander's 1974 text. Alexander was the second person to publish the phrase.
Dysology.org and Dysology.comAttribution
The second use of Selfish Gene -still two years prior to Dawkins
Donald Campbell's (1975) paper cites Hamilton's important paper of 1971, which influenced his thinking. On the self-serving survival of the selfish gene in any species, including human, Campbell's (1975, p.240) use of the phrase selfish gene is as follows:
‘…if the altruistic group were to any extent heterozygous or if there were mutants back to the selfish gene, the individual-versus-individual selection process would erode the prevalence of the altruistic gene in favor of the selfish.’
Campbell’s essential hypothesis is that because of the dominance of our individual selfishness genes (note: not selfish genes) that human societies have all been required to evolve social rules to keep selfishness in check. On page 243 Campbell hypothesizes that all societies on Earth, including ancient cultures, would have been required to create uniformities in popular moralizing:
- All should have preachments against cowardice in battle
- All should preach against lying for personal gain – but perhaps not against lying for the benefit of the group
- All should preach against in-group theft – but perhaps not against plundering of other groups
- All should preach against murderous rage
- All should preach against arrogant self-pride
- All should preach in favor of personal industry
- All should preach in favor of abstemiousness
- All should preach in favor of doing one's unique duty
- All should preach in favor of group loyalty
Given Campbell’s hypothesis that such things as the Christian Ten Commandments sit among the formal rules and ethical obligations of all societies throughout human history as essential memes to keep selfishness genes in check, one would have thought that Campbell’s paper would have been cited and explored by Dawkins' to explain the difference between Campbell's notion of a selfish gene being a selfishness gene that impacts upon the organism as opposed to his own use of Hamilton's notion of a selfish gene that perpetuates itself via the organism. And one would have thought that Dawkins would have explored the notion of a selfishness gene in his best selling atheist manifesto The God Delusion ( 2006). But, weirdly, he does not. God forbid anyone suggest Dawkins' own selfishness genes need to be kept in check by academic commandments against deception for personal gain, in-group theft, arrogant self-pride, lack of group loyalty, or lack of personal industry by requiring him now to do his own unique duty and admit he does not have priority for the phrase and concept of the selfish gene, because we cannot know whether Dawkins is aware that the phrase is not his and we cannot know whether he is aware that so many publications - including his own Wikipedia page - mistakenly claim that he is its originator.
In addition to the three authors Hamilton, Alexander and Campbell who all used the exact phrase selfish gene prior to Dawkins, a fourth (Orlove 1975) used the phrase ‘selfishness gene’. His work too, in spite of it being published in the prestigious Journal of Theoretical Biology, is similarly completely ignored by Dawkins in his first and all subsequent editions of The Selfish Gene.
The Myth of Dawkins
At the time of writing (05.March.2012) Wikipedia's page for The Selfish Gene erroneously has it that Dawkins coined the phrase selfish gene:
'Dawkins coined the term "selfish gene" as a way of expressing the gene-centred view of evolution as opposed to the views focused on the organism...'
[Postscript note 25th March 2013: two weeks following the busting of the Selfish Gene Myth in this very blog post, Wikepedia simply replaced the word "coined" with "used" in the above text. They made zero reference to the fact that they got the new information from my work here. We need to understand how myths and fallacies begin and are spread. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is typical of many publishers in that its in-house rules ensure that it deletes its own record of active participation in myth-making and myth dissemination.
See the full postscript note below for the implications of such typically poor referencing of sources by all encyclopedias.]
But on Dawkins' own wikipedia page those busy wikepedians produce some startling evidence, which suggests that claims made on behalf of Dawkins to both the phrase and the concept of the meme are in serious doubt. It is worth replicating (pun intended) what is written:
Although Dawkins invented the specific term meme independently, he has not claimed that the idea itself was entirely novel, and there have been other expressions for similar ideas in the past. For instance, John Laurent has suggested that the term may have derived from the work of the little-known German biologist Richard Semon. In 1904, Semon published Die Mneme (which appeared in English in 1924 as The Mneme). This book discusses the cultural transmission of experiences, with insights parallel to those of Dawkins. Laurent also found the term mneme used in Maurice Maeterlinck's The Life of the White Ant (1926), and has highlighted the similarities to Dawkins's concept. Author James Gleick describes Dawkins's concept of the meme as "his most famous memorable invention, far more influential than his selfish genes or his later proselytizing against religiosity".
A meme is essentially an appealing idea that passes itself on and on within society in a very similar way that selfish genes are passed on.
In The God Delusion (Dawkins 2006), Dawkins preaches the importance of veracity and sound scholarship. In it he also explains that religion is a meme and that he has a problem with religion because so much of it is simply something that somebody just went away and thought about for a bit and then made up. Given that so many scholarly articles and books and websites claim also that Dawkins invented the concept of the meme - seemingly even more than claim he coined the phrase selfish gene - the authors of those publications appear now to be erroneously just making things up. After all, how much checking have they done? And when it comes to checking on Dawkins' bragging rights to the phrase and concept of the selfish gene these confident assertors have obviously not done as much checking as I did. But it took me less than 30 minutes to bust the Dawkins selfish gene myth. That said, in Dawkins' favour, internet dating has failed to produce any disconfirming evidence for the claim that he did coin the precise word meme for an English readership (Dawkins 1976) admits that it is the same as the French word même, which incidentally means 'to be exactly the same'. The problem we now have is in knowing how to treat that fact given that his word meme is so close to biologist Semon's mneme, which is the same or at least an incredibly similar concept in the same field. It is odd that Dawkins, given his self-appointed media role as spokesman for sound scientific scholarship, has not gone into print to satisfactorily clear up these lurking questions of priority. What makes this such an important issue is the fact that the meme concept, and the coining of the word, are attributed to Dawkins in an incredible number of scholarly publications.
I find all of this most perplexing, because Dawkins' work has had a great influence upon my own and I've always counted him among my academic heroes. That in the cases of both the coining of the word meme and the adoption of the phrase selfish gene such a fine scholar as Dawkins has after 37 years failed to refute any priority is simply weird. Surely Dawkins should publically cede priority over both the word meme (it being so close to Semon's) and the basic meme concept in favour of its true originator Semon - who we now know clearly 'anticipated' Dawkins by 50 years!
I have an ideme
Currently, we have no word in the English language for someone who discovers a word and basic concept and then tweaks the word to coin his own and then claim the concept. So I decided to take the existing word idem, which means 'the same' and take the last letter from meme to create ideme. This new English language word that I have coined means: 'both a word, or phrase, and an idea that is very much the same as another that was coined first, but is the one that has famously caught on, just like a meme.'
Given that Hamilton has priority for selfish gene because he used it seven years before Dawkins, and that Semon has 50 years of priority for meme, surely a published statement is required from Dawkins to address this duel issue that now looms over his work? Will he step up and shake the hands of those who have pointed out this fact by dint of sound scholarship and thank them? After all he is keen on using such examples of humility shown by others (here) in the face of dis-confirming evidence for their work. Perhaps the Richard Dawkins Foundation would fund me to use internet dating to test the veracity of orthodox knowledge claims made for other great scientists besides those made for his own, and to look at the impact that such dysology has upon knowledge progression?
In his 2006 edition of The Selfish Gene, Dawkins merely cites some work of Hamilton, which is simply not good enough. Because he fails to admit that Hamilton has priority of both the phrase and its basic concept. And it is even worse for Dawkins to remain silent now because his weird failure to attribute priority to Hamilton has caused the pervasive myth that Dawkins coined the phrase 'selfish gene'. This means that literally millions of people are now being led to believe the myth that Dawkins is the originator of the most basic selfish gene concept, rather than his own developed notion of selfish genes being at the center of natural selection.
To get some idea of the spread of the Selfish Gene Myth, so far, I have comprised a non-definitive list 30 books and peer reviewed journal articles all fallaciously claiming that Dawkins coined the phrase in his 1976 book of the same name. The table below is just a random snapshot of 100 websites that also disseminate this myth.
100 Websites perpetuating the myth that Dawkins coined the phase ‘selfish gene’
65. The Selfish Gene
70. The Selfish Gene
77. The Selfish Gene
 Websites Checked on 21st April 2013. A non definitive selection,
The difference between being wrong and in the wrong
Despite my best efforts I have failed to find a single instance where Dawkins claims to have coined the phrase selfish gene. But, despite numerous publications claiming that he did, I have also failed to find a single publication or broadcast where Dawkins refutes this widespread misconception. In my opinion Dawkins - internationally acclaimed preacher on good scholarship - should take a leaf out of Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman's book and refute the fixed false belief that he is the originator of the term 'selfish gene'. The economist Friedman, who is even today too often accredited with coining the phrase "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" regularly dismissed the false ascription despite the fact that he used it as a book title.
On the basis of my thesis that The Phrase is the Concept, I would like to propose that we need a new ethical working principle for all scholarship that we might coin the Ascription Dismissal Friedman Principle. Let's call it Friedman's principle for short, which is that:
You cannot be in the wrong simply by keeping quiet about not coining a word or phrase when many others are publishing their mistaken belief that you did, but it is wrong for you not to proactively set the record straight once you know about it.
At the most basic level in this case it is true that "the phrase is the concept" and this is where Dawkins lets himself down because it's merely a clever distraction for him to simply argue as he did a decade ago (Allegedly Dawkins 1993) in defense of accusations that he should cede priority to Hamilton, that his own 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. But its a fishy defense because, at the most basic level Dawkins and Hamilton share the exact same concept that is encapsulated by the phrase selfish gene. Namely, that functioning as they do within the biological rules of heredity, and whatever makes them favored, that favored genes pass on their characteristics to the next generation. And that this is a selfish process, primarily first favoring the selfish gene over all else, so that the organisms that carry them serve merely as vessels (or perhaps vassals is a better word) for this natural selection of those genes, which can happen regardless of the effect this process may have on the long-term survival of the species or the well being of all of its members.
What Dawkins, weirdly, completely fails to address is that in 1969 William, D. Hamilton presented a paper on selfish and altruistic behavior, at the Smithsonian Institute Annual Symposium, which includes the exact phrase selfish gene. Hamilton then published the paper in 1971. In coining the phrase, in this 1969 paper and its 1971 publication, Hamilton, therefore, is proven to be the originator of the phrase as well as (by default) the basic selfish gene concept. This fact does not appear to nave been known or published prior to it being uniquely revealed here, simply because past debates have focused solely upon differences of concept.
How to reference this peer-to-peer articlet, which is, incidentally, the original source of the busting of the selfish gene myth and the coining of the phrases: ‘invented originator’ and ‘Ascription Dismissal Friedman Principle' and the ideme word and concept.
Based upon the Dawkins is an invented originator argument, I have reviewed his 30th Anniversary edition of the Selfish Gene on the Amazon website. You can read it here.
Postscript 24th March 2013
Two weeks after the 37 year old Dawkins Selfish Gene Myth was uniquely first busted here on Best thinking, Wiikepedians altered their earlier claim (cited herein on 5th march 2013) that Dawkins coined the phrase selfish gene. You can see the editorial record for the one word change by clicking here.
Here is the the editing note from their website on the rationionale for that change:
'(cur | prev) 19:06, 20 March 2013 Scientificradical (talk | contribs) m . . (18,691 bytes) (-2) . . (Dawkins popularized - rather than "coined" - the term "selfish gene". Strictly speaking the term selfish gene had been "coined" previously by W.D. Hamilton and used by others.) (undo)'
On 20th March 2013 - two weeks and one day after I bust the 37 year old Dawkins Selfish Gene myth in this very blog post, Wikipedia effectively deleted its own involvement in perpetuating the Dawkins Selfish Gene Myth by simply changing the word coined for the word used. See the text below, which is taken from Wikipedia's own behind the scenes editing transcript. In this example, you can see how Wikipedia’s institutional editing rules ensure that it deletes its past dysology and, to add insult to injury, effectively steals the work of others by failing to attribute the source of the myth-busting that led to the new knowledge.
|Line 26: Original Myth spreading|| |
Line 26:Latest revision as of 19:06, 20 March 2013 Hiding Wikipedia's dysology
'''''The Selfish Gene''''' is a book on [[evolution]] by [[Richard Dawkins]], [[1976 in literature|published in 1976]]. It builds upon the principal theory of [[George C. Williams]]'s first book ''[[Adaptation and Natural Selection]]''. Dawkins coined the term "selfish gene" as a way of expressing the [[gene-centered view of evoluton.
|+||'''''The Selfish Gene''''' is a book on [[evolution]] by [[Richard Dawkins]], [[1976 in literature|published in 1976]]. It builds upon the principal theory of [[George C. Williams]]'s first book ''[[Adaptation and Natural Selection]]''. Dawkins used the term "selfish gene" as a way of expressing the [[gene-centered view of evolution|gene-centred view of evolution.|
In the problematically unscholarly tradition of many encyclopedias, Wikipedia does not insist that those who write for it reference the original mythbusting sources for new 'facts' presented on their webpages if those newly discovered facts derive from the scholarly work of expert mythbusters. Worse, they nearly always delete any attempt to do so! In this way do they seek to slyly edit-out the history of their past errors and those of others whose poor scholarship they once believed and cited.
This very blog post is the un-cited original mythbusting source of that Wikipedia edit.
It is exactly such failure to cite the originators of original scholarship that led Richard Dawkins, Wikipedia and every other published source on the subject to originally create the enabling environment and to create and then perpetuate the myth that Dawkins coined the phrase selfish gene.
We need to create a groundswell of change regarding such dysological practices!
The verity of these critical claims made against Wikipedia's poor scholarship is verified by documented proof stamped on the original page by RbutR rebuttal software.
RbutR's excellent free software product proves that I rebutted Wikipedia's perpetuation of the Dawkins myth 12 days before Wikipedia edited away its error with no reference whatsoever to my mythbusting that led to their edit of their own error.
Wikipedia is not untypical in the general publication industry's institutional culture of enforced poor scholarship minimal citation practices. Theirs is exactly the sort of behavior that led to the initial myth enabling environment created by Dawkins in his popular science book The Selfish Gene and the creation and subsequent perpetuation of the Selfish Gene Myth by others, including Wikipedia. Enforcing a house style of pared-back (minimal) citation in encyclopedias, popular science books, and other wide-appeal publications allows authors to neutralize their internal feelings of guilt for 'stealing' the ideas of others and, if ever confronted, to handily explain such behavior away as not their personal fault.
We need to understand how myths and fallacies begin and are spread. Wikipedia is typical of many publishers in that its in-house rules ensure that it deletes its own record of active participation in myth-making and myth dissemination.
Direct RebuttalsBestThinking / Thinkers / Science / Social Sciences / Sociology / Mike Sutton (Blog) - The Selfish Gene Myth is Bust: Richard Dawkins is an Invented Originator
Let rebutting begin and may veracity win!
Postscript 27th April 2013- Dennis Lendrem published a blog post today that takes a contrary view to my position that the phrase in this case is the most basic bio-evolutionary concept: Here
Allegedly Dawkins, R. (1993) Message from Dr. Richard Dawkins. Via Steven Brenner. Monday March 8th. http://www.bio.net/bionet/mm/mol-evol/1993-March/000781.html
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.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. (first edition) Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Dawkins, R. (2006) The Selfish Gene (1 million copy international best seller) 30th Anniversary Edition. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Dawkins, R. (2006) The God Delusion. London. Bantam Press
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.
Orlove, M. J. (1975). A model of kin selection not invoking coefficients of relationship. Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 49, Issue 2, February 1975, Pages 289–310