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Sep 19 2011

Dawkins lionized

The New York Times has a very nice profile of Richard Dawkins titled A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy — an an excellent choice of a title, too.

(Also on Sb)

87 comments

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  1. 1
    feralboy12

    I’m not in love with the word “bashing” in the title. Applying reason and rational thought to subjects that don’t welcome such things would be more accurate.

  2. 2
    nesetalis

    Ahh I do so love dawkins.

  3. 3
    Anthony K

    I don’t think I could handle Dawkins with a beard, let alone a full mane.

  4. 4
    Rob

    Some depressing idiocy in the comments there. I swear sometimes it’s like I’m reading an entirely different article to the commenters.

  5. 5
    ikesolem

    That article provides another example of why Dawkins is ignorable – he doesn’t like doing basic scientific work:

    “He gets little charge from such exertions.”

    “My interest in biology was pretty much always on the philosophical side,” he says, listing the essential questions that drive him. “Why do we exist, why are we here, what is it all about?”

    Consider in contrast Hubble’s position, who, when asked about the cosmological and religious significance of an expanding universe, responded, “What I’m doing here is measuring redshifts.” He left the rest of it to the philosophers and grand theorists – but he’s the one who figured it out, nevertheless. Philosophizing about it is a waste of time.

    Thus, Dawkins is clearly NOT an evolutionary biologist, he’s a philosopher. Nothing wrong with that, but it also means he adheres to outdated notions of biological evolutionary processes. His book “The Selfish Gene” is little more than an exercise in anthropomorphizing biological facts (as if a stretch of DNA could be ‘selfish’). This is a hopelessly deterministic, early 20th-century view of biology and evolution.

    A Marxist ideologue could have written the same book and called it “The Worker Gene” – the name seems to reflect Dawkin’s socio-political views (Ayn Rand fan?) more than anything else.

    Likewise, the claim that he “turned the field on its head” is ludicrous nonsense. The simplistic notion he promotes (“Genes, he says, try to maximize their chance of survival”) doesn’t match biochemical facts. Genes exist in cooperative networks, and failure of one gene product tends to be terminal for the organism in most cases (say, in glycolysis). He also avoids the whole issue of complex genetic regulatory networks. Conceptually, he’s wrong because phenotype is what is selected, not genotype.

    The bottom line is that there are far better sources to turn to for modern explanations of evolution, ecology, molecular biology and biochemistry, ones not loaded down with ideological baggage.

  6. 6
    'Tis Himself

    ikesolm #5

    A Marxist ideologue could have written the same book and called it “The Worker Gene” – the name seems to reflect Dawkin’s socio-political views (Ayn Rand fan?) more than anything else.

    I quote from the pfft of all knowledge:

    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 and the group. From the gene-centred view follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense (at the level of the genes) it makes for them to behave selflessly with each other. Therefore the concept is especially good at explaining many forms of altruism, regardless of a common misuse of the term along the lines of a selfishness gene.

    It’s true The Selfish Gene is not cutting edge biology. However, considering it was a popularization published 35 years ago, nobody without an axe to grind would complain about the book.

  7. 7
    Brett

    Dawkins can occasionally be a bit of a dick (I remember his comments on Elevatorgate, plus a scuffle that ensued over a major change on the Richard Dawkins forums a couple years back), but he’s a fantastic advocate for both evolution and atheism. His book The Greatest Show on Earth is one of my favorite books to re-read.

  8. 8
    Petr Kudlacek

    Wait, why is the date 20th of September in the video?

  9. 9
    PZ Myers

    You know, I can be a bit of a dick sometimes. If you’re confident and loud and strong, you’ll often be called a dick — I can’t get upset at occasional bouts of dickishness, or I’d have to condemn myself.

  10. 10
    designsoda

    the name seems to reflect Dawkin’s socio-political views (Ayn Rand fan?) more than anything else.

    Had you read the whole article before commenting you’d know about his socio-political views.

  11. 11
    pelamun

    it’s a bit disheartening to see that even the readership of the New York Times is capable of making such moronic comments, even taking into consideration the locations specific commentators claim to be based at..

  12. 12
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    @10 Don’t worry, xe hasn’t read any of Dawkins’ books either. I know this because xe gets it all wrong. Dawkins knows that it is individuals who survive to reproduce and that it is phenotypes that are selected for(duh). What he’s saying is that it is interesting to realise that those phenotypes are just byproducts of the genes themselves. Just like populations evolve because of the survival of well-adapted individuals, individuals differ in adaptability only because the genes are more or less successful in surviving and reproducing. The “selfish” gene is a metaphor.

    In other words, ikesolem, before criticising someone, read their stuff instead of strawmaning.

  13. 13
    Jem

    His book “The Selfish Gene” is little more than an exercise in anthropomorphizing biological facts (as if a stretch of DNA could be ‘selfish’).

    His books are tailored to communicate to the general public, nothing wrong with that. And if anyone reads the books and doesn’t understand that the anthropomorphic terms are metaphors for easier comprehension, then they’re a complete moron.

  14. 14
    CJO

    That article provides another example of why Dawkins is ignorable – he doesn’t like doing basic scientific work:

    Theory is just as basic to science as experiment. You’re trying to elevate experiment over theory, but being primarily a theorist doesn’t make one a philosopher and not a scientist, and experimental scientists are on occasion known to weigh in on theory and philosophy too. Not all scientists are experimenters.

    Granted, most scientists are both to some degree, but designing and implementing effective experiments is a talent and a set of specialized skills that not everyone in the sciences has. You don’t hear people saying that theoretical physicists as a class are merely philosiphers. Dawkins is a theoretical biologist.

    His book “The Selfish Gene” is little more than an exercise in anthropomorphizing biological facts (as if a stretch of DNA could be ‘selfish’). This is a hopelessly deterministic, early 20th-century view of biology and evolution.

    A Marxist ideologue could have written the same book and called it “The Worker Gene” – the name seems to reflect Dawkin’s socio-political views (Ayn Rand fan?) more than anything else.

    Mary Midgley, is that you? Have you read the damn book? Heve you read The Extended Phenotype? Do you know anything about his political views? Do you know that he explicitly disavows your obtuse literalization of his central metaphor in the introduction to the book?

    Conceptually, he’s wrong because phenotype is what is selected, not genotype.

    Conceptually that can’t be quite right either, because phenotypes do not replicate.

  15. 15
    'Tis Himself

    You know, I can be a bit of a dick sometimes.

    No shit.

  16. 16
    Shibujiro

    Conceptually, he’s wrong because phenotype is what is selected, not genotype.

    That’s the book! The whole book explains how natural selection works at the gene level even though the individuals do the living and dying.

    Did you even read the book? You didn’t, did you? And yet here you come with your thesis-defeating pixie dust pointing out with great authority that the argument that selection occurs at the gene level rather than the individual level is wrong because selection occurs at the gene level. Brilliant! Why didn’t any of his peers think of that? Must have been too busy wasting their time philosophizing.

    This is question-begging even a CNN reporter could catch, which tells me you either didn’t read the book–and therefore don’t know what you’re talking about–or you think you can rebut an argument by saying it’s wrong–and therefore don’t know what you’re talking about. Either way, I’m afraid you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  17. 17
    David Marjanović, OM

    I’m not in love with the word “bashing” in the title. Applying reason and rational thought to subjects that don’t welcome such things would be more accurate.

    That is bashing.

    That article provides another example of why Dawkins is ignorable – he doesn’t like doing basic scientific work:

    I fart in your general direction.

    Evolution is a big, overarching concept.

    Measuring redshifts alone isn’t even science. Data generation alone isn’t science. Testing hypotheses that explain data is science, Hubble’s feeble attempt at being humble notwithstanding.

    This is a hopelessly deterministic, early 20th-century view of biology and evolution.

    Deterministic???

    And in the early 20th century, people believed in such crap as the good of the species. Actually, scratch that, there were even neolamarckists around in those times.

    failure of one gene product tends to be terminal for the organism in most cases

    Well, that’s a definition of failure…

    Most mutations don’t lead to failure of any kind.

  18. 18
    hyperdeath

    ikesolem says:

    His book “The Selfish Gene” is little more than an exercise in anthropomorphizing biological facts (as if a stretch of DNA could be ‘selfish’).

    *sigh*

    Where do we get these pretentious incompetents from? Have Dunning and Kruger started a breeding program?

  19. 19
    Matt Penfold

    At then end of The Selish Gene Dawkins wrote about humans being unique in being able overcome the tyranny of the selish replicators. From the context it was clear he considered our ability to overcome that tyranny to be important.

    Hardly the words of someone who is comitted a Randian philosophy.

  20. 20
    Anthony K

    And yet here you come with your thesis-defeating pixie dust pointing out with great authority that the argument that selection occurs at the gene level rather than the individual level is wrong because selection occurs at the gene level. Brilliant! Why didn’t any of his peers think of that? Must have been too busy wasting their time philosophizing.

    That’s ikesolem’s specialty, apparently. What’s the sound of one freshman fapping?

  21. 21
    Matt Penfold

    Conceptually, he’s wrong because phenotype is what is selected, not genotype.

    No, that cannot be right either since there is competition within the genome. That competition is not explainable at the phenotype level. It is explainable at the geneype level. So once is forced to accept that at some level at least, the unit of selection is the gene. And it turns out that no other unit is needed. Appearances of higher level selection can be explain at gene level.

  22. 22
    ikesolem

    Monkeys, when angry, fling their feces. And I was hoping for rational responses. Serves me right. But, yes you do hear people saying that some “pure” theoretical physicists are merely philosophers – as applied to those who aren’t constantly checking their work with experimentalists. It’s a two-way street. Since much current cosmological and particle physics is untestable, it’s more properly called metaphysics, which isn’t science. Richard ‘the Dick’ Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann have pointed this out, for example.

    Dawkins also exhibits his typical 19th-century misogynist outlook in that article:

    “They were lovely girls, but utterly brainwashed.”

    Try replacing that with “They were lovely boys, but utterly brainwashed.” Gives it a rather different (cough) flavor, doesn’t it?

    I do believe he’d have used the phrase “intelligent” if he’d been talking about boys, don’t you? Hard to blame men of his generation who went to schools that only admitted white boys of a certain class, but come on, this is the 21st century now.

    To further illustrate this point, I took the liberty of editing PZMyers’ comment, Ahem:

    “You know, I can be a bit of a pussy sometimes. If you’re confident diffident and loud quiet and strong weak, you’ll often be called a pussy — I can’t get upset at occasional bouts of pussy-ness, or I’d have to condemn myself.”

    What does it mean to be confident? Here’s my favorite example of that:

    “Had I been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.” – attributed to King Alfonso X of Castille, (1221-1284)

    Yeah, me too.

    P.P.S. @Brownian: My specialty, such as it is, lies in the general area of microbial biochemistry and genetics. Now, what is the sound of one old windbag passing gas? Thbbbppptttt, isn’t it? Dickishly yers! ;D or is it :} or perhaps :P?

    That’s why the bastards kicked me out of graduate school, too… no respect at all for authority, sigh.

  23. 23
    CJO

    Monkeys, when angry, fling their feces.

    And idiots say stupid shit on the internet and then try to blame the mess on those who point it out. To each his nature, it appears.

    You’ve received a number of rational responses, not a one of which was particularly angry in tone. You clearly haven’t read The Selfish Gene, and either you don’t understand the thesis or you are so ideologically opposed to it that you can’t muster the intellectual honesty to represent it fairly.

    Either way, based on your –ahem– excretions in this thread, I’d expect a more intellectually stimulating experience having a poo-fight with a monkey than having a conversation with a dimwitted primate such as yourself.

  24. 24
    Shibujiro

    Monkeys, when angry, fling their feces. And I was hoping for rational responses.

    I take it you are pleading ad hominem, then? Perhaps you missed my particular comment. It’s #16. I accused you of not reading the very book you were criticising because your question-begging conclusion belied an apparent ignorance of the basic premise of the book itself.

    You didn’t respond to any of this.

    I still think you don’t know what you’re talking about, but that’s just my opinion of you personally. I addressed your actual arguments, such as they were, with counterarguments of my own.

    I invite you to respond.

  25. 25
    Jem

    Try replacing that with “They were lovely boys, but utterly brainwashed.” Gives it a rather different (cough) flavor, doesn’t it?
    I do believe he’d have used the phrase “intelligent” if he’d been talking about boys, don’t you?

    FFS. Seriously? seriously? making up pretend Dawkins-quotes?
    Just go away.

  26. 26
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    IIRC, Ike has shown himself to be Dawkins hater, and probably a liberturd. Otherwise, why would ideological appear in a scientific argument, rather than links to the peer reviewed literature?

  27. 27
    CJO

    No, s/he evidently thinks Dawkins is a libertarian, based on extensive research into the title of one of his books. Read every letter.

  28. 28
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Marxist or libertarian?:

    A Marxist ideologue could have written the same book and called it “The Worker Gene” – the name seems to reflect Dawkin’s socio-political views (Ayn Rand fan?) more than anything else.

    Ike on another thread:

    Student should also be taught that biological evolutionary processes are NOT completely understood, neither the generation of variation nor the selection of variants, and that this is an active and ongoing area of research.

    Also sounds like a creobot, as random mutation/natural selection is very well understood.

  29. 29
    Anthony K

    And I was hoping for rational responses.

    Come back when you’re no longer fourteen, fuckhead.

  30. 30
    ikesolem

    Yawn. Dawkins has stirred up a little controversy, so perhaps he’s a useful idiot for those of us who’ve adopted the scientific perspective – but his notions are juvenile and outdated. He claimed “genes have a flintlike integrity” but anyone who has been in the trenches knows about exon-intron shuffling in the euakaryotic lineage. Go buy a modern molecular biology textbook if you don’t know what that means.

    Fact is, genes are little bits and pieces of other genes, and it’s not mutation that’s primarily responsible, it’s recombination (give a nod to virus-assisted recombination and jumping genes while yer at it). Sadly, you poor Twitterized one-line commentators have as much chance of grasping such advanced concepts as does a monkey with the attention span of a gnat, sorry to say.

    Similarly, genes operate in cooperation with other genes, as anyone who has ever studied the TCA cycle, the Calvin cycle, the electron transport system, the signal transduction system, phosphorylation cascades, etc, etc, would know. Viruses might be ‘selfish’ but even here, the fact is that rapid lysogenic viruses vanish quickly – that’s why AIDS (HIV) is widespread and Ebola/Marburg is not.

    Phenotype is mostly the result of coordinated gene networks, not of ‘selfish genes.’ Dawkins got a lot of coverage and publicity because his book matched the Milton Friedman agenda of “selfish greed is good for the economy” – he was widely read by Wall Street’s “Masters of the Universe” and since he reinforced their themes, he was accepted.

    To be fair, the ‘liberturds’ likewise swallowed Lovelock’s “Gaia Theory”, in which loving Mother Earth warmly embraces all her children as part of the “Great Circle” of cooperative life. These people should be introduced to a starving wolverine, is all I can say about that.

    What I find irritating here is the projection of ideological concepts from the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ onto science. It’s perverse propaganda, and Dawkins is just as guilty of this as Lovelock is – and they have plenty of historical 20th century antecedents.

    It’s intolerable, is what it is – a complete perversion of what science is all about. Go into politics, if that’s what you like, and leave science out of it.

  31. 31
    shawnthesheep

    Dawkins also exhibits his typical 19th-century misogynist outlook in that article:

    “They were lovely girls, but utterly brainwashed.”

    Try replacing that with “They were lovely boys, but utterly brainwashed.” Gives it a rather different (cough) flavor, doesn’t it?

    I do believe he’d have used the phrase “intelligent” if he’d been talking about boys, don’t you? Hard to blame men of his generation who went to schools that only admitted white boys of a certain class, but come on, this is the 21st century now.

    To further illustrate this point, I took the liberty of editing PZMyers’ comment, Ahem:

    “You know, I can be a bit of a pussy sometimes. If you’re confident diffident and loud quiet and strong weak, you’ll often be called a pussy — I can’t get upset at occasional bouts of pussy-ness, or I’d have to condemn myself.

    While you might be a wise and learned scientist (we’ll have to take your word for that), your reading comprehension skills are abysmal. “Lovely”, in British vernacular, can mean “very pleasant”. What Dawkins was intending to do with that statement, which would seem obvious to anyone paying attention, was to make it clear that he was not personally insulting schoolgirls, merely their education.

    As to your question, it’s blatantly obvious that Dawkins is NOT referring to the schoolgirl’s intelligence at all, so I don’t believe he would have used the adjective intelligent if he were referring to boys. If Dawkins had been referring to boys, I believe he would have said, “They were lovely boys” or “they were very pleasant boys,” He was not calling the girls lovely because they were girls. He was calling them lovely because they were very pleasant people.

    You seem to see bias in everything, whether it’s eurocentrism, or misogyny or anthropomorphizing. It seems you have a bias bias. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a cute rhetorical trick to dismiss someone’s views by identifying a perceived bias instead of focusing on the substance of her/his argument, but it does not add much to the discussion. I hope putting “her” first was acceptable to you.

    As for your “edit” of PZ’s comments, that was not editing. Editing is “performed with an intention of producing a correct, consistent, accurate, and complete output.” What you did was re-write PZ’s comments in a way that completely changed the meaning. As for using your “edit” to “further illustrate” your point, I don’t see your point at all. It does not illustrate anything. It merely muddles an already muddled train of thought. I have not idea what point you were trying to make. Perhaps it was, “White European male bad. White European male misogynist.”

    You might be a brilliant data collector, but it seems Dawkins has you beat when it comes to clear and concise communication. But don’t worry, Dawkins needs worker bees like you to continue to produce data that he can use to support his worthless philosophical ramblings.

  32. 32
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Re “lovely girls”. Seriously, yes. It is not good to publicly judge young women by their appearance, especially when you are discussing education. If they’d been ugly, would it be OK to brainwash them then? I, too, very much doubt that he would have said the same of boys. He’s more of a standard 20th century sexist than a 19th century type, though. Mostly a good man, with some blind spots.

    Dawkins is 70, and a significant chunk of the feminist movement has passed him by. Fortunately, it’s not actually required that we treat him as infallible; he isn’t the pope of atheism.

  33. 33
    shawnthesheep

    Damn blockquote fail.

  34. 34
    shawnthesheep

    For those who thinks Dawkins was referring to the girls’ physical appearance, would you please, for fuck’s sake, crack open your OED? Some of you might speak English, but you clearly don’t speak British. What’s next? Are we going to mock Dawkins for how he spells colour?

  35. 35
    ikesolem

    Brownian says:
    19 September 2011 at 6:28 pm

    And I was hoping for rational responses.

    Come back when you’re no longer fourteen, fuckhead.

    Ah, irony defined. By the way, the definition of “pussy” includes those who hide behind anonymous internet monikers while posting on the internet – and let me just say, PZMyers is no pussy, and I don’t think he’s a dick either. However, when pussy and dick get together, guess what happens?

    I believe it’s called evolution, innit?

    Ha ha ha ha ha!

  36. 36
    ikesolem

    Alright, this whole thread was just my setup for that pussy-dick joke, sorry, mea culpa. Please forgive me?

  37. 37
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I believe it’s called evolution, innit?

    Nope, it may be evolution if offspring occur, or it may not. Showing you to be nothing but a fuckwitted troll.

  38. 38
    SallyStrange

    Fact is, genes are little bits and pieces of other genes, and it’s not mutation that’s primarily responsible, it’s recombination (give a nod to virus-assisted recombination and jumping genes while yer at it). Sadly, you poor Twitterized one-line commentators have as much chance of grasping such advanced concepts as does a monkey with the attention span of a gnat, sorry to say.

    Similarly, genes operate in cooperation with other genes, as anyone who has ever studied the TCA cycle, the Calvin cycle, the electron transport system, the signal transduction system, phosphorylation cascades, etc, etc, would know. Viruses might be ‘selfish’ but even here, the fact is that rapid lysogenic viruses vanish quickly – that’s why AIDS (HIV) is widespread and Ebola/Marburg is not.

    Dude. If I, a transportation planner, can understand your techno-bio-babble, then you’re not using big enough words. Even I can understand that recombinant shuffling is not mutually exclusive with mutation. If your goal is to demonstrate your superior understanding of biology and genetics, while confusing the rubes into thinking that you actually know what you’re talking about, you’re failing utterly.

  39. 39
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Ike, natural selection works.

    Now, show me your idea from the peer reviewed scientific literature, or shut the fuck up.

  40. 40
    SallyStrange

    Also: Dawkins can be, and has been, a misogynist. But the quote about the Muslim girls is really not indicative of misogyny.

    And also again: no you are not forgiven. Your arrogant stupidity is inexcusable, as is your inability to recognize that your “joke” was stupid and unfunny.

  41. 41
    'Tis Himself

    Dear ike,

    You might be slightly better appreciated if you didn’t use gender-specific slurs. However, considering how poorly you write and how silly what you do write is, perhaps it would be better if you just shut up.

    Just an observation.

  42. 42
    Anthony K

    Ah, irony defined.

    Ah, the ol’ “I know you are, but what am I?” retort.

    But don’t let me interrupt you. You were about to make some sort of point about irony, were you? The internet waits with bated breath. Perhaps when you’re done that, you can tell us more fantastical stories of the ideologies of far Cathay. And then, you can astound us with ungrammatically captioned pictures of cats.

  43. 43
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Seriously, yes. It is not good to publicly judge young women by their appearance, especially when you are discussing education. If they’d been ugly, would it be OK to brainwash them then?

    Come on Alethea. Not you, too. You’re smarter than that. (Yes, even given Dawkins’ recent sexist display there’s no reason for this provocative and uncharitable reading). You know full well that what another commenter said is true: British vernacular uses “lovely” to mean pleasant all the time. So does American in some circles. I know men and women who refer to men and women as “lovely” hosts, dinner companions, conversational partners. I do it myself.

    Dawkins is not perfect, but it’s just too much and too silly to think he was actually insulting these girls by remarking on their physical beauty and empty brains. Gimme a break.

  44. 44
    Jem

    Re “lovely girls”. Seriously, yes. It is not good to publicly judge young women by their appearance, especially when you are discussing education.

    I don’t speak ‘American’ but I’m picking up this idea that over there you think ‘lovely’ must be a reference to appearances? Well, it’s not.

  45. 45
    NelC

    As a Brit, I can confirm that in British English we use ‘lovely’ to mean pleasant. In fact, I didn’t comprehend what ikesolem meant at first, and I’m still a bit mystified. I could have sworn that I’d heard Americans using the word to mean more than physical appearance, but perhaps that’s just me mis-interpreting.

  46. 46
    echidna

    As an Australian, I can confirm that “lovely” has a wealth of meanings, almost none of them concerning physical appearance, and as someone said above is more akin to “pleasant, but not superficially pleasant” rather than “beautiful”.

    If said sarcastically, it takes on the meaning of “nasty” or “distasteful”, rather than “ugly”.

  47. 47
    SallyStrange

    I could have sworn that I’d heard Americans using the word to mean more than physical appearance, but perhaps that’s just me mis-interpreting.

    We would, except we’re afeared of sounding British pompous. Personally, I’m more likely to use it to refer to an event (“What a lovely ceremony!”) than to a person.

  48. 48
    ChasCPeterson

    I found this bit pretty surprising:

    “Consciousness has to be there, hasn’t it?” Professor Dawkins replies. “It’s an evolved, emergent quality of brains. It’s very likely that most mammals have consciousness, and probably birds, too.”

    I…disagree.

    humans have evolved into something like bolts of superpowerful intelligent and moral energy.

    eyerolling muscles…cramping…must…log off…

  49. 49
    Amphiox

    Dawkins has been on record on numerous occasions describing his liberal and progressive personal politics and has also been on record saying that the title of “The Selfish Gene” could just as easily have been “The Cooperative Gene”.

    Ikey-boy, here’s a hint. When intellectually honest people decide to criticize something, be it a person or an idea, they make some small effort to get their facts about it straight first.

    I was going to offer you some ketchup to go with that foot you stuffed in your mouth, but after your second post it was clear that you would be better served with a Heimlich manuever, and by your fourth it became evident that I was too late, as anoxic brain death had already occurred.

  50. 50
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I’m American? Wow. Amazing, I never knew.

    And I’ll stand by “lovely” as being a gendered compliment. It doesn’t mean the same thing across sexes. Just for amusement, google image “lovely woman” (heaps) and “lovely man” (did you mean “lonely man”?). Look up “lovely girls” and “lovely boys”. It’s not the same thing at all.

    I think it’s quite a small thing, a minor indicator of a general cultural problem. There was an article recently being shared about on FB which discusses how everyone compliments little girls on their appearance – but very rarely applauds their interests, abilities, activities etc. That’s the level I’m thinking about; not derp derp MRA sexism but quite a subtle cultural point. And one that I would expect regulars here to get, but not expect of Dawkins.

    A gentle little read: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html

  51. 51
    shawnthesheep

    Alethea,

    Your trying a little too hard to find gender bias. Referring to schoolgirls as “lovely” in the context Dawkins did is not a gender-specific comment on their physical appearance. He was complimenting them on being pleasant enough as people but brainwashed.

    Googling lovely woman does not prove anything. The term lovely has more than one meaning. There is absolutely nothing in what Dawkins said to suggest he was referring to the girls’ appearance. It seems pretty obvious to most that read the quote that Dawkins was making sure to be clear that he was not insulting the girls personally but merely their education. In this context, the girls’ appearance is beside the point. To interpret Dawkins’ comment as referring to physical appearance suggests that you have a bias (towards hypersensitivity), not Dawkins.

  52. 52
    WhiteHatLurker

    Okay, I admit I’ve not paid much attention to Dawkins.(Yes, gasp, I’m a luddite, not a real atheist, whatever.)

    But … he’s married to Lala Ward??? I’m speechless and in awe. He’s a Gallifreyan by marriage!

  53. 53
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    No, Alethea, you went too far. You have a legit point about how, in some contexts, the word lovely is read in a gendered way depending on the subject to whom it is applied, but you went beyond that. Yeah, I get it, and I get that Dawkins has a lot to answer for with his recent shenanigans (I was one of the loudest outraged commenters on that thread in which he appeared). But you exaggerated without qualification in your first comment and you should cop to that.

  54. 54
    Ichthyic

    Where do we get these pretentious incompetents from?

    yes, Ikesolem does seem to fit that bill, based on the sum of his posts so far on various threads.

    knows just enough to use the right terms, not enough to know HOW to use them. Firs time I noticed was his post about vaccinations about a week ago. Needed much correction.

    I prefer pretentious wanker, but that’s just the local influence talking.

    Ike…. you should bail. People here actually know what they’re on about, and it’s obvious you don’t. Your act is wearing thin.

  55. 55
    submoron

    Re “Lovely”: In poem XXXV of Houseman’s “a Shropshire Lad” (On the idle hill of summer) occurs the verse
    “East and West on fields forgotten,
    Bleach the bones of comrades slain,
    Lovely lads and dead and rotten,
    None that go return again.”.
    Houseman, apparently, was gay but had a Victorian public seen it as physical he might not have kept his chair of Latin at University College London!Another atheist too, if you’re interested.
    Ikesolem seems to dismiss theorists, insisting on experiment as the only respectable endeavour for a real scientist; poor Pauli, he wouldn’t have stood a chance!

  56. 56
    Matt Penfold

    And I’ll stand by “lovely” as being a gendered compliment. It doesn’t mean the same thing across sexes. Just for amusement, google image “lovely woman” (heaps) and “lovely man” (did you mean “lonely man”?). Look up “lovely girls” and “lovely boys”. It’s not the same thing at all.

    So you are admitting that rather that allow the fact British English uses lovely differently from American English to change your mind and apologisw for your error, you instead will remain willfully ignorant and carry on repeating your mistake.

    I think you can fuck off now.

  57. 57
    Kel

    “I am almost pathologically afraid of indoctrinating children,” he says. “It would be a ‘Think for Yourself Academy.’ ”

    There was a show on ABC (Australia) TV a couple of years ago, funnily enough called “The Atheists”, where as a web bonus they had an interview with Dawkins after watching the show. One of the things he said in the interview was that he didn’t want to force anyone to believe, he wanted them to think for themselves.

    I bring this up, because I’m tired of people talking about atheists in the same light as fundamentalists, and using Dawkins as an example of a militant atheist. The whole point of arguing about something is that the goal is to have people think it through, not to make people believe.

  58. 58
    Audun

    But, yes you do hear people saying that some “pure” theoretical physicists are merely philosophers – as applied to those who aren’t constantly checking their work with experimentalists. It’s a two-way street. Since much current cosmological and particle physics is untestable, it’s more properly called metaphysics, which isn’t science. Richard ‘the Dick’ Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann have pointed this out, for example.

    If you read the Selfish Gene, you’ll see that Dawkins is constantly checking his facts against nature and experiments. In fact, the work resembles today’s state-of-the-art experimental physics:
    * Describe theory
    * Come up with experiments and observation that support it
    * Use computer models to elucidate exactly how the theory supports experiment.

    Regarding theoretical physics, you are wrong. Current particle physics is absolutely testable, and the LHC is currently ruling out huge realms of possibility for modern theories. Quantum gravity and cosmology does have a reputation for producing untestable theories, but the goal has always been to pinpoint exactly where predictions differ from established theory, so they can come up with tests. This is in contrasts to metaphysics, which almost by definition is interested in the untestable.

  59. 59
    John Phillips, FCD

    Alethea you are stretching it now and reading into it what you want to. I say that as a Brit who routinely uses the word when describing something or someone, irrespective of gender, as being emphatically pleasant. Thus, however it may be most commonly used wherever you live, the above general non-gendered usage is by far the commonest in the UK.

  60. 60
    David Marjanović, OM

    Since much current cosmological and particle physics is untestable, it’s more properly called metaphysics, which isn’t science.

    String theory is, AFAIK, less than half of “current cosmological and particle physics”.

    Dawkins also exhibits his typical 19th-century misogynist outlook in that article:

    That would make him a bad person. Would it make him a bad scientist in areas that don’t touch directly on that topic?

    it’s not mutation that’s primarily responsible, it’s recombination

    Evidence?

    Similarly, genes operate in cooperation with other genes, as anyone who has ever studied the TCA cycle, the Calvin cycle, the electron transport system, the signal transduction system, phosphorylation cascades, etc, etc, would know. Viruses might be ‘selfish’ but even here, the fact is that rapid lysogenic viruses vanish quickly – that’s why AIDS (HIV) is widespread and Ebola/Marburg is not.

    Oh, dude. That’s exactly what Dawkins predicted. Cooperation as a byproduct of selfishness is an important part of the “selfish gene” hypothesis.

    You really haven’t read anything about it, have you.

    I found this bit pretty surprising:

    “Consciousness has to be there, hasn’t it?” Professor Dawkins replies. “It’s an evolved, emergent quality of brains. It’s very likely that most mammals have consciousness, and probably birds, too.”

    I…disagree.

    Why? What do you mean by consciousness – the state I’m in when I’m not unconscious?

  61. 61
    ChasCPeterson

    What do you mean by consciousness

    Fair question. I don’t know.
    I guess that’s exactly what I’d ask Dawkins. If all it means is ‘like being awake instead of asleep’ then it’s not very interesting.
    And whatever it means, it’s probably unmeasurable anyway.

  62. 62
    truthspeaker

    Alethea H. Claw says:
    19 September 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Re “lovely girls”. Seriously, yes. It is not good to publicly judge young women by their appearance, especially when you are discussing education.

    He didn’t say anything about their appearance.

  63. 63
    truthspeaker

    Wait. a book written 35 years ago is out of date? I’m shocked!

  64. 64
    John Morales

    truthspeaker:

    He didn’t say anything about their appearance.

    No, not strictly so — only implied it.

    (Here’s what Google shows for “lovely girls”)

  65. 65
    Matt Penfold

    No, not strictly so — only implied it.

    Not even that.

    Maybe people who do not understand British English need to either try to understand it, or shut up.

  66. 66
    Alex, Tyrant of Skepsis

    Good bye, western civilization, the internet, of all things, is now considered by idiots to be the arbiter of semantics and etymology. I think u haz so much fail, an I haz a sad.

  67. 67
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Alex, if you refer to my Google reference above, note that I adduced it on the basis that it is an unbiased ranking of the collected published material that has been indexed.

    (Also, you confuse actual usage with semantics and etymology. Not cool ;) )

  68. 68
    Matt Penfold

    Alex, if you refer to my Google reference above, note that I adduced it on the basis that it is an unbiased ranking of the collected published material that has been indexed.

    That Google reference proved nothing, so what was the point ?

  69. 69
    Pierce R. Butler

    John Morales @ # 67: … Google … is an unbiased ranking of the collected published material …

    Now find some way to restrict your search to colloquialisms uttered within England, and you’ll have some useful comparisons, old boy.

  70. 70
    KG

    I think “lovely girls” as used by Dawkins does not refer to their appearance – it would be considered equally appropriate (by people of his age and upper-class British background) to use it whether the “girls” happened to be physically attrative or not, but not if they were rude or unpleasant. But it is nonetheless a gendered phrase; I can’t imagine Dawkins using the phrase “lovely boys” in an equivalent context. I can imagine a woman of the same age and class using either phrase.

  71. 71
    Anthony K

    My specialty, such as it is, lies in the general area of microbial biochemistry and genetics

    That’s why the bastards kicked me out of graduate school, too… no respect at all for authority, sigh.

    That’s awesome. ikesolem claims not to kowtow to authority, while at the same time appealing to his or her own.

    Painting her- or himself as a Mary Sue nicely rounds out the cliché.

    I don’t think it’s humanly possible to be a less interesting person.

  72. 72
    hyperdeath

    Brownian says:

    That’s awesome. ikesolem claims not to kowtow to authority, while at the same time appealing to his or her own.

    You obviously don’t appreciate how awesome he is. If only you were him, that simple fact would be obvious.

  73. 73
    Anthony K

    You obviously don’t appreciate how awesome he is. If only you were him, that simple fact would be obvious.

    Ah. That must be it.

    Perhaps I was simply confused by the fact that s/he seems to have posted all over the internet, under multiple names and multiple identities, but always with the same MO:

    1. Pop in, blustering how s/he and only s/he fully understands the subject material at hand.

    2. Get excoriated for ‘pretentious incompetency’ (nicely put, hyperdeath.)

    3. Ignore actual challenges and arguments, instead focusing on tone and insults (such red herrings are my specialty, and they draw him/her in every time) while at the same time chiding everyone that s/he “came here expecting rational debate” and is now terribly disappointed.

    4. Flounce.

    5. Rinse and repeat.

    So you can understand my frustration when I thought that ikesolem was just one of millions of trolls who whine and whinge in precisely the same way, a non-small subset of whom we’ve all encountered countless times on this very blog.

    But now that I understand that s/he’s just the latest avatar of one prolific (if still whiny and unjustifiably conceited) loser, I must admit that I’m at least a little impressed by her/his ubiquity.

  74. 74
    Don Quijote

    My English wife and her family use the word lovely to describe people, places and things with impunity. My brothers-in-law will describe another man as lovely and I take it to mean that they find that man noble in his manner.
    I have to say that we are all over the age of 60, so maybe this has something to do with how people interpret the word.

  75. 75
    chigau (違う)

    I’m Canadian and over 50. I usually use the word “lovely” to describe behavior.
    Such as the lovely young woman at the airline check-in who caused me to get home last night as opposed to this morning.

  76. 76
    hyperdeath

    Brownian says:

    But now that I understand that s/he’s just the latest avatar of one prolific (if still whiny and unjustifiably conceited) loser, I must admit that I’m at least a little impressed by her/his ubiquity.

    What other names does he use?

  77. 77
    Anthony K

    What other names does he use?

    Why, every name that the troll (previously thought to be many, unrelated trolls) that exhibits the behaviour I’ve described uses.

  78. 78
    Grumps

    The Saracens rugby team are pretty well all as ugly as fuck, but they’re all lovely boys.

  79. 79
    Grumps

    BTW that isn’t actually true. Many of my friends have a bit of a thing about some of those handsome hunks.

  80. 80
    TonyJ

    ikesolem:
    the name seems to reflect Dawkin’s socio-political views (Ayn Rand fan?) more than anything else.

    Are you serious?

  81. 81
    TonyJ

    Dawkins also exhibits his typical 19th-century misogynist outlook in that article:

    “They were lovely girls, but utterly brainwashed.”

    Try replacing that with “They were lovely boys, but utterly brainwashed.” Gives it a rather different (cough) flavor, doesn’t it?

    Not really. How do you figure that?

    I do believe he’d have used the phrase “intelligent” if he’d been talking about boys, don’t you?

    You’re basing an accusation of sexism on what you think he’d’ve said if they were males?

  82. 82
    TonyJ

    Alethea H. Claw:

    Re “lovely girls”. Seriously, yes. It is not good to publicly judge young women by their appearance, especially when you are discussing education. If they’d been ugly, would it be OK to brainwash them then?

    You know that the adjective ‘lovely’ is not used exclusively to describe appearance, don’t you?

    “I had a lovely time” does not mean that I am describing the physical appearance of the time I had.

  83. 83
    TonyJ

    I don’t speak ‘American’ but I’m picking up this idea that over there you think ‘lovely’ must be a reference to appearances? Well, it’s not.

    Maybe in some regions of the USA, but apparently I didn’t get the memo.

    It could also be that because he said something sexist once, people are now assuming that everything he says is tinged with sexism.

  84. 84
    TonyJ

    Also: Dawkins can be, and has been, a misogynist.

    Isn’t misogynist a little strong? Sexist, maybe, but hatred for women? I haven’t seen it.

  85. 85
    tfkreference

    John Morales @64: Did he imply it or did you infer it?

    Brownian @73: Excellent description of this type of troll. I’m bummed that I missed the discussion when it was fresh.

  86. 86
    John Morales

    [meta]

    John Morales @64: Did he imply it or did you infer it?

    Neither, alas. I pulled the term out of context and plugged it into the search engine.

    (I was stupid to rush to comment without checking)

  87. 87
    Kel

    Dawkins also exhibits his typical 19th-century misogynist outlook in that article

    Is tilting at windmills the new black?

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