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Mike Sutton
Mike Sutton
Dr Mike Sutton is the author of 'Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret'.


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The Selfish Gene Myth is Bust: Richard Dawkins is an Invented Originator

Mar. 5, 2013 5:24 pm

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.

  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.His basic notion of the selfish gene using organisms for their perpetuation is the same as Dawkins'.
  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, but his notion is of a selfishness gene making the organism selfish.
  3. 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.
  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 the phrase and that Hamilton is originator of both the phrase and same basic concept of the ‘selfish gene’.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

image 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:

The Selfish Gene - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

'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,[59] 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.[60] 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.[60] 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".[61]

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’[1]

1. Selfish Gene Free Research Papers 41 - 60 -

2. Creative Evolution?! - Page 68 - Google Books Result

3. 60 Free Essays on Essay About Altruism And Selfishness ...

4. Psychological vs. Biological Altruism | Philosophy Talk

5. Fitness -

6. Slideshow - Apiculture and Social Insect laboratory

7. onegoodmove: The Greatest Show On Earth

8. THE COMING OF THE QUANTUM CHRIST: The - Shroud of Turin Blog

9. East Los Angeles College : APS 301 : Lec1_APS301_Slideshow

10. Shortcomings Of OSS? - Slashdot

11. dawkins selfish gene ppt - P(1) -

12. The Selfish Gene - Conservapedia

13. What did Richard Dawkins mean by the term "selfish gene?" How ...

14. Selfish Genes and Gene-Centered Evolution - Bitesize Bio

15. The Selfish Gene - Google Books

16. dawkins richard - the selfish gene - First Edition - AbeBooks

17. Selfish T-shirt. It's not me, It's my genome. | Memetic Bot

18. 04 - Richard Dawkins - 1976 - The Selfish Gene - YouTube

19. Dawkins and the Selfish Gene - Google Books

20. [edit] "Selfish" genes - Wikipedia

21. richard dawkins - selfish gene - First Edition - Bookseller-supplied ...

22. Robert Delikat (Yamhill, OR)'s review of The Selfish Gene - Goodreads

23. the selfish gene | English as a Cultural Key

24. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins : 9780195690668 ...

25. Skeptical Salon: The Selfish Gene - Chicago Skeptics (Chicago, IL ...

26. Rick's Books Reviews: Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene

27. Thread history - RationalWiki

28. The Selfish Gene - free ebooks download

29. The Selfish Gene - yeoadeline - Multiply

30. The selfish gene (2nd edition) - Microsoft Academic Search

31. Who wrote the selfish gene? | ChaCha

32. The Selfish Gene - ScrierWiki

33. Quoting Paragraphs -


35. meme | the

36. Theory of Anthropology Final flashcards | Quizlet

37. The Selfish Gene in Encyclopedia

38. 12 - the science of romance

39. Talk:The Selfish Gene - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

40. The Selfish Gene (one of the best books I've ever read) | NowPublic ...

41. 'It's Mine!' The Selfish Gene - National Politics / Debate - City ...

42. The Selfish Gene :: 네이버 블로그

43. About LOVE |

44. Is LOVE made by Nature?? |

45. What does inclusive fitness mean?

46. Perspectives in Ethology: Evolution, Culture, and Behavior - Page 115 - Go

47. Richard Dawkins Archives | Memetic Bot

48. Law Librarian Blog: Is There a Biological Basis for Recognizing ...

49. Doolittle, Darwin and the Deeply Dumb | News Feature | Halifax ...

50. are we fully shaped and determined by our genes? - Piotr ...

51. EnMasse :: View topic - Genetic reason for sleeping in

52. The Misunderstanding between the Selfish Gene and Gaia

53. More Threatiness at - Telic Thoughts

54. selfish - definition and meaning - Wordnik

55. What is DAWKINS NOTES?

56. SCUBA, New Practice & England - Blupete

57. Richard Dawkins - Ne Okuyorsun | Sanal Kütüphane

58. richard dawkins - selfish gene - Hard Cover - First Edition - AbeBooks

59. General Debate 1 March 2013 | Kiwiblog

60. 2012 October |

61. Selfish Gene Theory | Answers

62. virus: Re: virus: FAQ: new questions

63. You weekly phylosophical discussion - Page 4 -

64. Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or ... - Google Books Result

65. The Selfish Gene

66. The Selfless Gene: Living with God and Darwin

67. Selfish Gene Ebook at Askives

68. Aspects of Metaphor - Page 21 - Google Books Result

69. The God Gene - PDF SB

70. The Selfish Gene

71. dangerous idea: Dialogue with an imaginary student on moral ...

72. What's in a Meme? - Journal of Memetics

73. Ethics Test 2 - STUDYBLUE | Make online flashcards & notes. Study ...

74. Ethics > Nash-nadir > Flashcards > Ch. 4 & 5 Study Guide | StudyBlue

75. View/Open - K-REx - Kansas State University

76. The Search for a Unifying Philosophy for the Occupy Movement

77. The Selfish Gene

78. Is Sex Everything? - TCS Daily

79. evolution Archives | Memetic Bot

80. Richard Dawkins Archives | Memetic Bot

81. SCUBA, New Practice & England - Blupete

82. General Debate 1 March 2013 | Kiwiblog

83. virus: Re: virus: FAQ: new questions

84. No.1893670 - /lit/ - Literature

85. Selfish Gene Theory | Answers

86. SMB Book Nook - School of Molecular Biosciences - Washington ...

87. June 10th, 2011 at 11:11AM - Anonymous Sperm Donor

88. genetics | Tumblr

89. Free Gene Change Research Papers 161 - 180

90. The problem of apparent altruism - Boards - The Motley Fool

91. 2012 October |

92. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, Richard Dawkins. 1995 ...

93. Religious nutjobs spread the blame for Aurora shooting, page 5 ...

94. Strange encounters on the grounds of third culture – ART LAB

95. Ashford University : ECON 101 : CHILD DEVELOPMENT 14 Pages ...

96. Facing the Fold: Essays on Scenario Planning /. - Page 182 - Google B

97. Sermon 2010-07-11 Rem.pdf ...

98. counterclockwise: March 2012

99. Free Gene Change Research Papers 161 - 180

100. Selfish Gene Theory | Answers

[1] 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.

Sutton, M. (2013) The Selfish Gene Myth is Bust: Richard Dawkins is an Invented Originator. Criminology: The Blog of Mike Sutton. March 5th. Best

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 2013Scientificradical (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.



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BestThinking / Thinkers / Science / Social Sciences / Sociology / Mike Sutton (Blog) - The Selfish Gene Myth is Bust: Richard Dawkins is an Invented Originator

Posted by Dr Mike Sutton - Current Score : 2. Comments.
You first visited this rebuttal on 2013-03-08 02:48:57.309
Dawkins did not coin the phrase selfish gene because Hamilton did 7 years earlier

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.

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

Author's Favorite
R.E. Kepler
September 9, 2015 at 6:50 pm
Further As to the "selfish gene"

Hello Mike,

I thought you would be interested in some additional details which I have found regarding this issue of the selfish gene.

In the 30th anniversary edition of Dawkins book, he writes on page xi the following:

Personifying genes, if done with due care and caution, often turns out to be the shortest route to rescuing a Darwinian theorist drowning in muddle. While trying to exercise that caution. I was encouraged by the masterful precedent of W. D.

Hamilton, one of the four named heroes of the book. In a paper of 1972 (the year in which I began to write The Selfish Gene) Hamilton wrote:

A gene is being favoured in natural selection if the aggregate of its replicas forms an increasing fraction of the total gene pool. We are going to be concerned with genes supposed to affect the social behaviour of their bearers, so let us try to make the argument more vivid by attributing to the genes, temporarily, intelligence and a certain freedom of choice. Imagine that a gene is considering the problem of increasing the number of its replicas, and imagine that it can choose between .. .

That is exactly the right spirit in which to read much of The Selfish Gene.

Note that Dawkins cites the year of publication of Hamilton's paper as 1972 when in point of fact, it is cited as 1971 everywhere else you can look to find where that particular paper of Hamilton's is cited, including your own correct citation of it as being published in 1971. That paper happens to be titled Selection of Selfish and Altruistic Behaviour In Some Extreme Models (as you have duly noted). See, for example, page 339 of Scott Boorman's book The Genetics Of Altruism or page 182 of The Altruism Equation by Lee Alan Dugatkin to see the paper was cited as from 1971. Why would Dawkins cite it as 1972 then? A mistake? Or something else.

Well that particular paper of Hamilton's was printed in its entirety in the book The Collected Papers of W.D. Hamilton, The Narrow Roads of Gene Land Volume I so one can see for oneself the contents of that paper. On page 272 of that book, you can verify Dawkins had indeed quoted a passage from Hamilton's 1971 paper. Earlier in that paper, page on 203 of The Collected Papers of W.D. Hamilton Volume I, this passage occurs:

When 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.

One could claim it was either a typo in the book or a slip on the part of Dawkins but 1972 happens to be very conveniently the year Dawkins claims he began writing his book The Selfish Gene. For in that very selfsame paper of Hamilton's from which Dawkins pulls the passage which he includes on page xi of the 30th anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene, the very phrase selfish gene appears. 1971 would date the appearance of the phrase before Dawkins began writing his book and, since Dawkins not only knew of the existence of the paper, he also had to have read it in order to pluck out the passage he did from it. And yes, from what I have seen, Hamilton is not properly credited.

Also on the note of sound scholarship which Dawkins hammers at in his book The God Delusion, if you realized what Dawkins left out in supposedly making his case, you would know there is considerable cherry-picking on his part in order to not contradict his own claims. Yet he accuses others of cherry-picking to support their own bias. (i.e. page 15 of The God Delusion: Does it seem that Einstein contradicted himself? That his words can be cherry-picked for quotes to support both sides of an argument? No.)

Incidentally, Dawkins states that Einstein was an atheist scientist. [Exact quote from page 13 of The God Delusion: Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is not the only atheistic scientist to do so…..)] But Einstein throughout his life repeatedly stated he was not an atheist and this was made eminently clear in both quotations of Einstein's and also statements from those who knew and had conversations with Einstein that he was not an atheist. This information appeared in Max Jammer's book Einstein and Religion, a book which Dawkins states in The God Delusion was his main source of quotations from Einstein himself on religious matters. If you bother to read other well researched books on Einstein, you will see basically the same information, that is, Einstein was not an atheist. But as Dawkins cited Jammer's book, the fact he omitted statements which would contradict his own claim that Einstein was an atheist is quite interesting to say the least.

I could go on and on but will leave it at that.

Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
September 10, 2015 at 4:28 am

Dear R. E. Kepler

That is very interesting indeed. Thank you very much for taking the trouble and diligence to share that precise information here. I've not yet had the chance to double-check your evidence. But - as you (I'm sure) would expect of any scholar - I will.

They say you should never meet your hero. Dawkins used to be mine, as did Darwin and Wallace. I say you should never research your heroes.

I hope you will endeavour to share your research on this matter elsewhere.

Richard Dawkins should not sell himself - in my opinion - from the high ground as an objective and honest scholar if the independently verifiable facts appear to disconfirm that premise.

Good science involves focusing on anomalies and paradoxes - not glossing over them with unevidenced beliefs.

Nullius in Verba my friend. And thank you once again.

Frederik Pruijn
March 31, 2013 at 6:13 am
A word of caution

Dear Dr Sutton,

I enjoyed your blog and your thoroughness as well as your bravery and persistence.

The following may or may not be helpful:

Hamilton cited his own 1969-paper in an article entitled “Selfish and Spiteful Behaviour in an Evolutionary Model” (Nature (1970) 228, 1218-1220); received February 6; revised July 16, 1970. Hamilton also cites his 1971-paper (the same one you cited) in an article entitled “Geometry for the Selfish Herd” (J. Theor. Biol. (1971) 31, 295-311); it was received 28 September 1970.; this paper has been cited well over a thousand times.

Eric Charnov co-wrote a paper entitled “Optimal prey selection in the Great Tit (Parus major)” (Anim. Behav. (1977) 25, 30-38). The other three authors were from the Animal Behaviour Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, which is where Richard Dawkins was based also. In the article’s Acknowledgements the authors thanked Marian Dawkins who “criticized the manuscript”; she was, of course, married to Richard Dawkins at the time. The paper was received 26 March 1976; revised 5 May 1976; MS. number: 1520.

Charnov also wrote another paper in 1977 entitled “An Elementary Treatment of the Genetical Theory of Kin-selection” (J. Theor. Biol. (1977) 66, 541-550); received 15 October 1976. Charnov’s correspondence address was Animal Behaviour Research Group, South Parks Road, Oxford, England. In this paper Charnov makes many references to “Hamilton’s rule” (the quotation marks are Charnov’s) and Hamilton’s model. In Section 2A he wrote:

2. A Simple Diploid Model

The assumptions in the model are as follows for a simple diploid organism.

(1) A single locus, two alleles; A is an altruist gene, a is selfish. [my underlining]

(2) Discrete generations, panmictic mating, near infinite population size.

The paper further cites Hamilton’s 1969-paper as well as the aforementioned 1970-Nature paper by Hamilton. Interestingly, at the end of the paper Charnov wrote:

This paper began with my attempts to explain the genetics of kin-selection to a graduate class in population biology. That failure led to the sexual haploid model. John Maynard Smith and Brian Charlesworth stimulated the diploid treatment. Richard Sibly, Mike Orlove and Richard Dawkins provided some much-needed criticism. The work was done while I was a visitor with the Animal Behavior Research Group at Oxford. I wish to thank David McFarland, John Krebs and K.G. Lark for making this visit possible; and the Biology Department, University of Utah, for paying the bills. [the formatting is my doing]

The 1975-paper by Orlove (Received 8 January 1974, and in revised form 5 July 1974) builds heavily on Hamilton’s work (with citations) and thanks Hamilton amongst many others. It is worth noting the interesting link with the Law of Karma and the replication of genes at the very end of the paper.

John Hurrell Crook wrote a paper “Sources of cooperation in animals and man” (Soc. Sci. Inform. (1970) 9, 27-48) that cites Hamilton’s presentation at the Smithsonian Institution Symposium “Man and beast” in May 1969; Crook’s paper was a revised version of a paper that he wrote for the very same symposium that appeared in the same edition of Man and beast in the Smithsonian Institution Press (1970) as Hamilton’s (according to a footnote on the first page of Crook’s paper). Crook was a Buddhist and passed away in 2011.

George W. Barlow wrote an article “Hexagonal Territories” (Anim. Behav. (1974) 22, 876-878); Received 13 December 1973; revised 12 February 1974; MS. number: 1283. It also cites Hamilton and in the Acknowledgements:

Thanks are due to Roy L. Caldwell for reading the manuscript. The writing was supported by National Science Foundation Grant GB 32192X, and the final draft was prepared with assistance from the staff of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, for which I am grateful to Professor J. W. S. Pringle, F.R.S., Professor N. Tinbergen, F.R.S. and Dr R. Dawkins. [my formatting]

Lastly, Mary Jane West Eberhard wrote “The Evolution of Social Behavior by Kin Selection” in March 1975 (The Quarterly Review of Biology (1975) 50, 1-33) that frequently referred to “selfish” and “selfishness” in terms of traits and cited the 1974-Alexander paper, many of Hamilton’s, and the 1975-Orlove paper as in press (in 1974). The most fascinating part, however, was the Acknowledgements:

This paper began as a joint effort by Richard D. Alexander and the author to write a paper on modifiers of kin selection and (later) on the evolution of social behavior (see Alexander, 1974). Many of the ideas discussed here came originally from Alexander or were brought to my attention by him; indeed, I am not always sure where his originality left off and mine began on certain topics. The same is true of help I received in extensive discussions of some sections with William G. Eberhard. Mary L. Corn, William D. Hamilton, Egbert Leigh, Charles D. Michener, Martin H. Moynihan, Katherine M. Noonan, Michael J. Orlove, and Robert L. Trivers also read the manuscript and made stimulating and helpful criticisms. José Ignacio Borrero kindly allowed me to use his personal library of books on birds and mammals. Financial support was provided by William G. Eberhard. [my formatting]

There is an exhaustive list (in the hundreds) of peer-reviewed papers that have cited the work of just Hamilton dating from before the ‘priority date’ of 1976. It seems to me that most articles deal with the concept of “selfish behaviour” though. Having said that, this discipline is very technical and complex (but fascinating, even for a non-expert); the articles tend to be lengthy. I would submit to you that only an expert can really judge these on their relative merits and thus help to verify or falsify your assertions. Obviously, there was a lot of excitement at the time and the field was rapidly evolving (pardon the pun) and, as is often the case in science, the researchers were influenced by each other in a mutual manner and exchanging ideas in an open and collaborative way without clear (and necessary?) attribution.

With all due respect, you may be right in your assertions but you might be ‘in the wrong’ by refusing to ask Richard Dawkins to set the record straight. In addition, you could, and should, ask others who can help to uncover the truth, e.g. Marian Dawkins (who is still based at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford; obviously she’s not married anymore to Richard Dawkins), Roger Trivers (who is based at the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and who, of course, wrote the original foreword to The Selfish Gene 1st Edition), or Eric Charnov (Department of Biology, University of New Mexico). There may be many others. Unfortunately, you cannot ask Hamilton himself. As far as I can tell Dawkins never published together with Hamilton.

Finally, even though Wikipedia has not acknowledged your contribution they did correct the Wiki. They did not delete anything because it can still be viewed in the Wiki History, the same one that you show in your blog. Obviously, one always has to question Wikipedia’s veracity, but this is true for any source of data & information.

Kind regards,

Frederik Pruijn

Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
March 31, 2013 at 10:01 am

Dear Frederik

Thank you most kindly for providing such a rich background of history to phrase and concepts of the selfishness gene and the selfish gene. I am most grateful and I expect that many expert and non-expert readers will find that rich information useful and intriguing.

I agree with you that this is a highly technical area and - as a social scientist myself I admit that the complexity of understanding of how more than one notion of the "selfish gene" as a general concept might operate is beyond my expertise. Moreover, I am aware that skeptics are generally cautioned not seek to bust myths outside of their own field of expertise because they might make an error of fact.

However, I'm adopting a very simple approach here (it's certainly not rocket science - nor evolutionary science). My approach is very simply to tackle the fact that in his The Selfish Gene (1976) popular science book (written for the general public) Richard Dawkins was clearly writing with the intention of it being a popular science best seller. And that in that very book Dawkins did not admit that the priority of the phrase that is its title and theme belongs to Hamilton - even though Hamilton first published it.

Since Hamiliton used the phrase in a biological and evolutionary context, it would not be enough for Dawkins to claim that he has simply decided to appropriate the phrase within that original basic context but to mean something technically different to what Hamilton meant when he coined it. Because indulging in such behaviour would mean Dawkins made what we might here name The Humpty Dumpty Manoeuvre. (HDM) that has been cited in court cases to show that it is inappropriate behavior to arrogantly misappropriate words and phrases. It comes from Humpty Dumpty's conversation on semantics with Alice in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass With Alice:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Coincidentally, Lewis Carroll was a student of Professor Rev. Baden Powell at Oxford University and it was Baden Powell who forced Charles Darwin’s conscience – thereby leading him to admit (in the third edition of Origin of Species) that in reality he did not have priority to the concept of natural selection.

As I understand it, priority in science is assigned to those who publish first. If we agree on that then Hamilton has priority, If, however, there is some secret about the oral (or non-published written) provenance of the phrase coming from Dawkins of which the general public is not aware and which makes the science priority rule unjust in principle and practice in this case then Dawkins really must say so and plead his case with evidence, or else once he knows about all the text books and papers that attribute the coning of the phrase to his 1976 book he should admit priority to Hamilton.

My Invented Originator hypothesis is that both Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene (1976) and Charles Darwin's (1859) Origin of Species became best sellers based in no small part on the fact that reviewers of those books, and fellow academics promoting those books, all fallaciously believed and so published widely the message that the authors of those best sellers were the originators of several key phrases and concepts contained within them. Myths then arose that their authors were indeed such originators and the success of those books was in no small part due to those fallacious beliefs because the book buying public believed they were reading the words of great originators rather than mere replicators.These myths remain today and are - with great irony - ardently believed by key players in the skeptical scientific community and (as I recently discovered at a local meeting in Nottingham UK) by members of the grass-roots skeptical community running Skeptics in the Pub meetings.Surely such dysology is not something Dawkins - the leading poster-man for the scientific method and good scholarship - wishes to continue?

(a) Had Dawkins admitted in The Selfish Gene that Hamilton and two others published the phrase 'selfish gene first' and (b) had, for example, the great Charles Darwin for his part ever admitted that Francis Corbaux (1829) first used the exact phrase 'natural selection' in an evolutionary context - or had Darwin ever admitted in print or letter (which he never did) that Matthew (1831) published the near-phrase 'natural process of selection' in the main body of his article on evolution - - then to this day the public and experts alike most likely would not fallaciously believe that both men are great originators and their books might not have been such wonderful best sellers.

As far as I can see, from your very useful comment (please do correct me if I've got it wrong), is that the only thing that anyone really has to ask Richard Dawkins on this matter (curiosity about his motives aside) is whether there is something he should tell the world (at whom his hugely successful popular science texts are aimed) about why the normal rules of publication assigning priority to a phrase and its basic concept do not apply to any biological/evolutionary use of the phrase 'selfish gene' in his own particular case.

Unless Dawkins can successfully plead - with evidence - a special case for some currently unknown oral (or non-published written) provenience of the phrase selfish gene being his own, or in some currently unknown way an agreed group effort, then the most basic biological/evolutionary concept as well as the phrase 'selfish gene' belongs to Hamilton. And Dawkins really needs to say so after all these years.

With regard to the Wiki issue, what concerns me is that the word-switch from "coined" to "used" is hidden behind the scenes so that after a few years it would be virtually impossible to find among a myriad of edits. With paper bound publications at least we can get hold of the evidence of past errors. Anyone reading this blog post and then visiting Wikipedia (if I had not spelled it out in a post-script what was done on the site) could be forgiven for believing that it was I who had made a mistake and not Wiki. I think that those clever chaps from RbutR are the only ones with a workable solution to this information age snaky edit problem. Good video on how it works here

Kindest regards


Frederik Pruijn
April 20, 2013 at 7:22 am

Dear Mike,

My apologies for the delayed response. Meanwhile Dennis Lendrem has written an intriguing counter-argument. I’d still like to make a few comments.

I don’t have any first-hand experience but I can imagine that sceptics and myth busters are always scorned by the ‘establishment’. If the rogue comes from outside the field he will be accused of ignorance. If, on the other hand, he comes from inside he will be accused of conflict of interest or ‘personal agenda’.

You know as well as I do that science is a collaborative, additive, and incremental effort. It means that we are continuously building on what other people have achieved, step by step. It is about sharing data as well as ideas. It is my impression that when Richard Dawkins started writing his book in 1972 and finished it in 1975, after taking a sabbatical, those were exciting times in his field. Dawkins wrote in the Preface to second edition (pg. xvii): “I now see that it was one of those mysterious periods in which new ideas are hovering in the air”. Undoubtedly, many chats and discussions were held (perhaps not at the water cooler) in corridors, labs, offices, pubs (?), at conferences, etc. This would constitute “oral (or non-published written) provenance”, as you call it. You can ask Dawkins directly and/or people who were his peers at the time and I suspect that they will confirm this. If correct, this will make it impossible to determine who has “priority” nor can one rely on only written (published) evidence. It seems somewhat of a moot point as there is no litigation imminent, e.g. as in the challenging of a patent in which case the ‘priority date’ can be immensely important.

I think Dawkins duly acknowledged Hamilton and others, in particular his “four heroes” in the Preface(s), Introduction, and throughout the book. In his Preface to first edition (pg. xxi) Dawkins referred to his “second imaginary reader”, which is “the expert”. He expressed hope that the expert will find something new in the book, a different way of looking at ideas that may inspire new thoughts.

Dawkins clearly set out to make the ideas and concepts accessible to lay-people. He also made it clear that he did not want to distinguish “between science and its ‘popularization’.” in the Preface to second edition (pg. xvi) He called this “a difficult art”. Dawkins built on ideas of others, and added his own, and he argued that popularization “can in its own right make an original contribution to science” (still on pg. xvi).

Dawkins has taken the title and the concept of “the selfish gene” and sold it to the masses (figuratively as well as literally) and I would say that he can rightfully claim this as his contribution, also on the scientific level. Further, he was the first to do so.

This has been an interesting ‘journey’ for me but I’ll end it here.

Kind regards,


Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
April 20, 2013 at 10:22 am

Dear Frederik

Many thanks for all of this useful information. Before hearing oral accounts of the past, at least from what you write, it is clear that Dawkins never even began to write his book The Selfish Gene until a year after Hamilton had published his paper in 1971, in which we can find the very first published use of the phrase 'selfish gene'. The most important point here is that I have a non definitive list of 30 books and scholarly articles that all claim that Dawkins coined the phrase selfish gene in his 1976 book of the same title. We know now - for the first time and from this blog - that the publication record is clear that that it is a myth that Dawkins coined the phrase 'selfish gene' in his book of that name, as I uniquely demonstrate here in this blog article.

Doesn't common sense suggest that Dawkins should have known about the existence of this myth for years? But he has never once refuted it.

Your argument is that Dawkins may have coined the phrase orally before Hamilton gave his paper in 1969 and published it in 1971. That's actually an interesting - and important issue regarding Dawkins' reputation - but it's a completely different issue to the myth that the phrase was first coined by Dawkins in The Selfish Gene book, which was not published until 1976.

In relation to your separate but interesting point regarding Dawkins' reputation: It can - as you quite rightly point out - only be investigated by asking Dawkins and others. However, it seems highly unlikely, to me at least, that Hamilton would have used a phrase coined by Dawkins, to describe Hamilton's concept, in a conference paper 7 years before Dawkins went into print with it and to then publish it 5 years before Dawkins - don't you think? If the phrase was not coined by Hamilton then Richard Dawkins has a very interesting story to tell that will be of great interest to historians of science.

Frederik Pruijn
April 27, 2013 at 12:13 am

Dear Mike,

I must clear up a misunderstanding, which was mainly my doing. I did not argue that Dawkins coined the phrase orally before Hamilton gave his paper in 1969. My argument was that it would have been, as it is nowadays, very hard sometimes to clearly define and appropriate absolute or relative ownership of ideas, particularly scientific ideas. Peer-reviewed papers nowadays have multiple co-authors – and it is my impression that they have many more authors on average than, say, 50 years ago – and patents tend to have multiple co-inventors. There are quite clear & specific rules regarding co-authorship and co-inventorship but it is nevertheless a grey area as I can assure you from my own experience. In the late 60s and early 70s many ideas would have been buzzing around; who knows who truly was the first to put any of these into spoken or written words? In relation to this, when does the writing of book start? Most certainly not at the date of publication; more likely is that ideas would have been buzzing around one’s head for some time before the idea of writing a book would have even occurred. Writing a book takes time, a lot of time, and many revisions.

Finally, as a non-expert in Dawkins and Hamilton’s field I cannot judge the similarities and differences between their use of the phrase and concept. I lack the expertise, the nous, and this became extremely clear when I tried to find out.

I hope this has clarified it.

Kind regards,


Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
April 27, 2013 at 6:03 am

Hi Frederik

As always, I am most grateful for your comments. It is good to see counter-arguments and to consider them. What follows is my response to your skepticism of my position. If it is not too tiresome I would very much like to know, and value, your response to what follows.

Here is my position:

I understand your perspective, which I believe is similar to Dennis's. However, without clearly enunciated evidence of the the circumstances of which your hypothesized joint-effort, or else grey area, of origination occurred, leaves us merelyaccepting possibilities as probabilities. Such confabulation of ideas with evidence creates the perfect enabling environment for ambitious plagiarists to pass-off the original work of others as their own entire invention (or to keep silent while others erroneously do so on their behalf) and to get away with it so they can profit from such dysology.

To confirm you hypothesis's we need sound supporting evidence of (a) joint effort before published evidence of origination by Hamilton in 1971 or (b) grey area involvement (also before published evidence of 1971 origination) - on the minimum standard of a balance of probabilities - that the origination of the most basic selfish gene concept was not uniquely Hamilton's.

Proven 1976 Dawkins Origination Myth

If you read the start of the blog you will see that I begin by citing those who erroneously claim Dawkins is the originator of the phrase and its most basic evolutionary biology concept by way of his 1976 book: The Selfish Gene. For further evidence of the extent of this absolute myth (remember Hamilton first published both phrase and concept in 1971) I inserted a table with 100 websites all perpetuating the same 1976 Dawkins Myth . I have over 30 books and peer reviewed articles that also say that the phrase and concept were originated by Dawkins in his 1976 book. I think we can accept that the publication record clearly shows that this is not only a myth but a pervasive one. Moreover he has never refuted this myth that he coined the phrase in 1976.

Hypothesized joint effort behind origination of Selfish Gene Phrase and most basic concept

Your important point is a separate issue to the main theme of this blog. And it is that Dawkins may in some way have been in on Hamilton's (1) initial coining of the phrase and (2) origination of the most basic concept before he considerably developed it 1976. If that is so then there is at the time of writing zero evidence to support your hypothesis. Dawkins and others involved in Hamilton's earliest work on this concept would need to present more than just their word for it to establish their claim to originating the most basic concept. Otherwise the motto of the Royal Society - nullius in verba - is being ignored. We cannot merely speculate and leave it at that. Good research into history of science and scientific ideas requires more than a willingness to make suppositions and leave it at that.

Dawkins used to be a hero of mine, as was Darwin. Unfortunately, the more I have deeply researched their work and that of their influences -combined with study of their use of self-serving misleading phraseology has instilled in me a deep concern that they have played a propulsive role in creating a number of flattering myths about themselves at the expense of other scholars.

At the end of the day what the research behind my blog has uncovered is the need for a clear statement of root of origination of the phrase and most basic bio-evolutionary concept of the selfish gene from Richard Dawkins. And then that statement needs to be thoroughly investigated.

Sadly, at least at the time of writing, none of us can yet live forever. Dawkins would do well to set the record straight while he still can. Because his hero, Charles Darwin's, legacy has come under considerable scrutiny over the years. With the aid of new research technology, I believe that I have uncovered significant and unique new data (previously undiscovered publications) that will show - for the first time - that on a fair balance of probabilities Darwin did clearly plagiarize the work of others, and also lied to conceal it. If Darwin were alive today he could try to successfully defend himself - perhaps with counter evidence. But he is, very sadly, long gone. However, the problem for his legacy is one of his own making - because he muddied the waters on this issue on so many occasions with self-serving misleading prose. All the evidence that is publicly available to us to date supports my contention that, more than a hundred years later, Dawkins did the same in 1976.

Frederik Pruijn
April 27, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Dear Mike,

Your persistence could be a double-edged sword but it would be rude of me not to reply briefly.

My point is that I am sceptical and unsure of my own judgement because I know I lack the nous. I think this is different from Dennis’, also because he’s more of an ‘insider’; you’ll have to read his blogs and ask him yourself.

My thesis is that all science, to various degrees, is a joint effort. Plagiarism does, of course, occur in science as it does in all areas of human endeavour (under different names & labels).

Since Hamilton did use a phrase & concept at a meeting in 1969 I am sure that he did use it prior to that meeting, possibly in lectures, in other talks, in conversations, etc. There may or may not exist written records of such, therefore they are just possibilities. I am quite comfortable with that. Hamilton influenced many people (e.g. Dawkins) but he was no “island’; Hamilton himself would have been influenced as well. Admittedly, Hamilton published many single-author papers but obviously he did not cite just his own work and he was no hermit who lived and worked in a cave in complete isolation from the world. I would think that not even Dawkins would be able to draw a sharp line to demarcate where Hamilton’s influence (not to mention that of many others) stopped and his own (Dawkins’) continued. After more than 37 years one’s memory will go blurry, which is perhaps the reason why you insist on written records from that time?

Hamilton would have had ample time to set the record straight if necessary. The fact that he didn’t could mean several things but I’d think that the main reason may have been that no corrective measures were needed in Hamilton’s opinion.

Dawkins himself has had ample time to change the record if necessary. Others have also had the opportunity to change the history of The Selfish Gene as it has been perpetuated but none have done so, as far as I know. This is interesting in itself because many scientists of that era are still alive. Furthermore, egos, envy & jealousy, and similar human traits would have ‘encouraged’ someone to step forward and make his or her voice heard. After 37 years this now seems less likely to happen.

To be self-serving does not make one a liar or cheater, does it?

Yes, the public believes that Dawkins is the sole originator of the phrase & concept like most people believe that Galileo Galilei invented the telescope. Indeed, Dawkins has done well out of this (not so sure about Galilei). Dawkins has published so many things; were these all his and purely his? Most likely not but he is an excellent ‘communicator’ and perhaps the ‘messenger’ (if that’s all Dawkins is) receives more credit than he deserves (instead of the opposite situation in which the messenger is shot). I simply don’t know the answer. Finally an analogy: when a famous pianist plays Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff who gets the applause: the pianist, the orchestra, the conductor, the composer, the people that taught the performers, etc?

Kind regards,


Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
April 28, 2013 at 7:28 am

Hi Fredrick

I'll begin where you left off - if that's OK, with the analogy.. I don't think the artist, even an "improving" (Dawkinesque) one deserves the praise for the work of the composer (Hamilton) particularly if he keeps the name of the composer's piece and others think the artist composed it - that would be like an excellent and improving lecturer on the history of physics getting the credit for Newton's discoveries.

Also being self serving in a way that misleads would put someone on a spectrum of dishonesty - perhaps liar or cheat is too much of a binary term when we talk of someone being misleading. At least that keeps us out of the realm of being sued for libel when engaging in critical debate.

Regarding influence and due credit - I think so much has to do with whether a person is included by others for their contribution. Consider the case of Franklin and her contribution to the discovery of DNA - had she been accepted by Crick and Watson instead of sidelined she would have been a Nobel prize winner. Had Dawkins admitted that Hamilton coined the phrase selfish gene and then explained the distinction between Hamilton's use of the phrase and his own later development of it he would not have created and allowed to continue a self-serving myth that he created the phrase in his 1976 book.

As you quite rightly point out the difficult area is working out where the breakthrough and origination of a new concept - that explains previously mysterious causality - is concerned. It looks like Hamilton did this with the basic notion of the selfish gene. Where it seems like Dennis (here) disagrees in his blog, that comments on mine (but does not cite it...bit of a theme going on there), is that he sees Dawkins' selfish gene centered explanation as a fundamental breakthrough that is distinct from Hamilton's notion of selfish gene. That's an areas where I know biologists are divided (e.g. see the link to Allegedly Dawkins in my references). And if it's such a clean break, as Dennis appears to think then why on Earth would Dawkins have taken his own colleague's, Hamilton's, exact same related bio-evolutionary, phrase as the title of his book?

Re Hamilton not complaining: If you read Dawkins' obituary of Hamilton you'll see that it would have been out of character for Hamilton to have noticed such a thing, let alone complain. But for those interested in something Hamilton was not concerned with, namely the study of myths, fallacies, bias and the history of scientific ideas, it is an important issue.

On which note, more important for me is seeking to understand how Dawkins' phraseology led to the creation and perpetuation of the Dawkins 1976 Selfish Gene Origination Myth, which was uniquely bust in this very blog post. In that respect, I am more interested in understanding how Dawkins did it rather than the more dangerous area of seeking to explain why.

Frederik Pruijn
May 3, 2013 at 4:51 am

Dear Mike,

thank you for your reply. I will let it rest at this point.

Kind regards,


Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
May 3, 2013 at 6:35 am

Dear Frederick

Very many thanks, because both your considered comments and those of Dennis have been extremely useful in helping me to think more broadly, and to consider other angles, and shape my ideas and arguments on this topic.


Dennis Lendrem
March 19, 2013 at 8:10 am
Myth Busting or Myth Creation?

Hi Mike...

I don't believe Richard Dawkins has ever claimed exclusivity to the "selfish gene".

In fact, he has been quite open in declaring that his only claim to originality lay not in the selfish gene but in some of the ideas in his second book - The Extended Phenotype.

Have you ever asked him about it?

Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
March 19, 2013 at 8:24 am

Hi Dennis

I've heard that said before. And he might well have done so, but I can't find where. And believe me I’ve looked.

To date, nobody seems able to provide a shred of evidence to support what you write.

As requested in the blog post above, where exactly is the publication where Dawkins writes that the selfish gene is not his phrase and is not his concept? What exactly does he write, in what publication and on what page? Because he most certainly does not say it's not his concept and not his phrase in any edition of The Selfish Gene. And by failing to do so, I argue, he creates an enabling environment for the Dawkins Selfish Gene Myth to spread.

Can you please provide a reference and a quotation to support what you write?

Thanks Dennis - If I'm wrong then I'll say so in big capital letters on the above blog.

Kindest regards


Dennis Lendrem
March 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I'm not sure I can give you a reference but when I asked that's what he said to me at David McFarland's Christmas party in 1979.

It certainly raises an important issue about how precedence is assigned in science.

You should ask him. It's an opportunity to document the origins of one of the most influential ideas of the second half of the twentieth century.

Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
March 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Hi Dennis

Thank you for engaging in commentary on the substance of this blog, and also for noting the importance of the general subject area. It's good to have someone to discuss it with who holds a different viewpont to my own.

Given the number of scholarly and other sources that all claim that Dawkins coined the phrase I suspect that he never has refuted that error in print. If he has I’ll stand corrected. Meanwhile this mythbusting is certainly not myth-creation as your first comment title asks, because the published data is published and it is dated. Therefore, unless I got it from a not-quite-parallel-part of the purported multiverse, it is irrefutable that Dawkins is not the originator of the phrase 'selfish gene'.

I suspect this blog and my forthcoming book are likely to cause some angry knee-jerking proverbial Semmelweis reflexes among the orthodox science community. Of course, we now know that in fact - with great irony - the story told about Semmelweis is also a myth - click here to see that particular myth-bust. The consequences of the knowledge flux that Internet Dating is going to cause in all areas of 'knowledge' should prove interesting.

It is absolutely irrefutable that Hamilton has priority to the phrase selfish gene.

Given that the phrase has only one basic concept then the concept is Hamilton’s too.

My main concern is that I am the first to prove Hamilton was first to publish the exact phrase. Moreover I’ve proven that at least two others also used the phrase before Dawkins. What this means is that all those journal articles, websites and books that claim Dawkins coined the phrase are 100 per cent wrong. Nobody needs to ask Dawkins about that. Because it’s a stone cold fact.

People are likely now to debate why the myth arose and why it was allowed to grow. I have my own thoughts on that and I’ll be publishing them in my forthcoming book on this subject.

I’ll be showing that Darwin similarly created and nurtured an enabling environment for his own originator myth to take hold and grow. We can only speculate as to why he did that.But I'm not interested in publishing speculation about either the living or the dead. Although I have to admit that it makes for delicious discreet conversation.

For the purposes of my current research interests I don't believe I need to ask Richard Dawkins anything Dennis, because on the selfish gene question the facts 100 per cent speak for themselves.

I'm not currently interested in exploring the motives of invented originators, because it's a far more important and much bigger issue to prove that these people are not at all what thy are currently believed to be. But if I was interested in motives, I would want to ask Dawkins about two things. I would want to ask him whether, in light of this newly 'discovered' data, (a) he knew all along that the phrase 'selfish gene' was not his and (b) whether he was completely ignorant of all the publications - including his own Wikipedia page - that claim he is the originator of the phrase.

As I remarked to Dr Mark Griffiths below, one would expect that Dawkins would also explain his treatment of Hamilton, but while I admit to being personally curious, I'm not academically interested in knowing what he has to say about that issue either, because we can never know for certain how veracious the response will be from another human being. For the moment, you see, I'm only interested academically in the absolute certainties that can be achieved through internet dating the origin of phrases and concepts.


Dr Mark Griffiths
March 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm
Nice article Mike. Let's hope this prompts Professor Dawkins to make a response.
Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
March 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Hi Mark

When faced with such irrefutable dis-confirming evidence, and his own scholarship involving a weird accumulation of apparently incredible coincidences, I feel sure that any scientist of Dawkins' public standing would be keen to explain his position regarding his treatment of Hamilton's obvious priority concerning the selfish gene phrase and concept.

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