Darwin-L Message Log 3:31 (November 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<3:31>From mayerg@cs.uwp.edu  Fri Nov  5 08:31:52 1993

Date: Fri, 5 Nov 1993 08:29:57 -0600 (CST)
From: Gregory Mayer <mayerg@cs.uwp.edu>
Subject: Re: The Selfish Gene
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

	I had determined to reply to Barry Roth's query, but did not get a
chance to do so before Jeremy Ahouse forwarded a message from Dawkins
himself which preempts in part what I planned to say.  Let me just briefly
make a few points regarding Dawkins' "getting away with it."

1) Dawkins' book was explicitly aimed at 3 audiences: laymen, students,
 and experts.
2) As Dawkins noted, a major part of his book consisted of an explication
 and elaboration of previously published work by W.D. Hamilton, G.C.
 Williams and J. Maynard Smith.
3) Dawkins followed publication of his book with a series of papers on the
 topic, and, in 1982, another book, _The Extended Phenotype_, directed
 at the "experts".
4) Other authors (e.g. R. Trivers, those mentioned above) also were
 publishing on the subject.
	None of these points, of course, argues either for or against the
validity of Dawkins' views.  Nor do I intend to suggest that Dawkins'
views were unoriginal.  They do, however, show some of the context of
discussion within the discipline within which his book appeared.  They
might therefore be relevant to a consideration of exactly what it is
Dawkins "got away with".  It is the case that Dawkins did attract
professional interest, both pro and con.  I am not an anthropologist, and
thus do not know the context of the aquatic ape; I first read of it in the
cryptozoological literature.
	As regards the current status of Dawkins' views, there is still
debate.  Some of the concepts that have emerged in the dialogue between
Dawkins and his critics, for example replicator and interactor, are of
lasting utility, regardless of who is "right".  Those interested in
subsequent developments should look at E. Sober's _The Nature of
Selection_ (MIT Press, 1984) and G.C. Williams' _Natural Selection:
Domains, Levels, and Challenges_ (Oxford, 1992).
	For a particularly good example of sound scientific writing for a
popular audience, try Dawkins' _The Blind Watchmaker_ (Norton, 1986).

Gregory C. Mayer

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