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Who could replace Dawkins?

The Official Richard Dawkins website tells us that the (in)famous evolutionary biologist / aetheist and campaigner for ‘reason in science’ will be retiring from his post at Oxford in September (having reached the Chair’s mandatory retirement age).

I’m really not sure who could possibly replace him as the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science (especially since that post was invented for him).

In the blogosphere rumours are hot for American evo-devo biologist / atheist PZ Meyers. Myers himself confirms on Pharyngula (his own blog) that he has been invited by Dawkins to apply, “but he [Dawkins] also invited Lawrence Krauss and Carolyn Porco. The competition is a bit intimidating,” he writes. Krauss is a physicist and prolific writer; Porco is a planetary scientist, more famous for spreading the word of science through pictures than words (she is leader of the imaging science team for the Cassini space mission to Saturn). Krauss is currently a columnist for New Scientist.

One other blogosphere nomination goes to Armand Leroi (biologist, author, and presenter of the UK television documentary series “Alien Worlds” and “What makes us Human”). Any other suggestions?


  1. Report this comment

    Mong H Tan, PhD said:

    RE: Abuse of Professorship for the understanding of Science at Oxford!

    I thought since its inception in 1995, that position has been very badly abused by Richard Dawkins: who so far has done nothing to promote the public understanding of good Science, but to conjure up the public confusion by his abuse of Darwinism, as his personal anti-religious Scientism, as “hysterical atheism” as expressed in his 2006 book “The God Delusion” — whose abusive pseudo-scientific armchair scholarship is unconscionable, by any standards, let alone Darwinian, scientific, philosophical, or critical in pursuit of religious matters!

    Author “Decoding Scientism” (work in progress since July 2007).

  2. Report this comment

    Ruth Rosin said:

    I am no admirer of Richard Dawkins. He has for years been riding atop the “atheism” horse, for which he can claim no priority. (Remember, the Bolshevik Revolution outlawed religion?) I hope, however, that the person chosen to fill his vacated position, will be able to undo the worst damage ever done to Dawkins’ specific field of expertise, i.e. psychobiology, with a major contribution from Dawkins himself, through his active involvement in the well-known honeybee “dance language” (DL) controversy, between K. v. Frisch and his supporters, and Adrian M. Wenner and his team. I shall try to deal with this still ongoing complex controversy as briefly as only possible, actually using about one trnth of the space I actually need.

    Von Frisch first claimed in a scientific journal, in 1946, to have discovered that honeybee-recruits have an “instinctive” DL that enables them to obtain, and use, distance & direction information, contained in their foragers’-dances, (about the approximate site visited by the foragers), to help them find the site on their own, (using only odor as a final stage, after use of DL information). His sensational claim initially met with disbelief, but soon became a revered ruling paradigm. Wenner & his team first claimed, in Science of 1967, that recruits use only odor. This led to an open debate between the two sides in Science of the same year. The next anti-DL publication by Wenner, Wells & Johnson, in Science of 1969, met with a scathing letter by Dawkins entitled: Bees are easily distracted, published in Science of the same year, where he berated Wenner & his team for daring to challenge an eminent scientist like v. Frisch, and claimed that their results were explainable by use of DL information. Wells submitted a self-defense letter, which was rejected by the journal’s biology editor. And thus began the severe, totally unjustified backlash against Wenner & his team, which soon turned them into pariahs, not welcome in any prestigious scientific journal. Dawkins also ridiculed Wenner, in the book “The Selfish Gene”, for “blighthfully” ignoring the problem of the adaptive value of honeybee dances.

    [edited for length]

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    David Marjanović said:

    Wikipedia, and your link to it, has it right: Myers. With one e in total.

    The two complainers… have you read Dawkins’ book Unweaving the Rainbow? Because you should… really.

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    Marion Delgado said:

    Uh, psychobiology? Couldn’t you spell evolutionary biology? Or even sociobiology? Is this science or Scientology?

    And for the first commenter – scientism has a precise meaning, actually. the fundies teaching their children in the privacy of their homes and madrassas that science is bad are not practicing it. The fundies and reactionaries at the Discovery Institute, in seeking to put revealed religion on a pseudoscientific footing for prestige and control reasons, are textbook examples of it.

    For the record, I’ve been on the other side of every real scientific controversy Dawkins has been involved in, going back decades. But the ignorance and arrogance of the commenters above is pretty disturbing, and lends credence to the late Carl Sagan’s fear that we were moving back into the “demon-haunted world.”

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    MPW said:

    A little depressing to see the only two comments on this page being whiny little bleets about Dawkins’ outspoken atheism (the first of them a bit of obvious self-promotion from an evident creationist). If you think he’s done any “damage,” you’re engaged in wishful thinking. He’s among the most widely read, discussed and acclaimed popular writers on science. In the UK, he tops polls of intellectuals respected by the public. It’s largely in the religion-besotted USA that his strong atheist stance inspires this sort of pearl-clutching and fainting. Even there he’s done an enormous amount recently to help move along public discourse about theism and its critics, as well as about evolution and its deniers.

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    Steven Ericsson-Zenith said:

    Dawkins is no Bertram Russell. He comes over as a narrow minded bigot with an ill defined cause, frankly.

    I hope his replacement manifests some of Russell’s sageness and zero of the Dawkins’ insensitivity and rhetoric that has far from served the cause of science.

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    Ruth Rosin said:

    I see that my comment of March 16 had been drastically shortened for length. Those interested in a more detailed version areurged tolook up my comments (as rosinbio) on Dawkins’ official website.

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    Aquaria said:

    Dawkins has exceptional skills in communicating science to lesser minds (like mine). Not since Sagan’s Cosmos has another writer inspired me to get off my duff and try to understand science better. Reading RD’s books and watching some of his videos got me to reject years of belief in New Age mumbo-jumbo, once and for all.

    I was his ideal target (deluded American), and his arguments convinced me to stop believing in a bunch of nonsense and concentrate on evidence. I spend most of my time online now tooling around science sites. I actually read science books. Thanks to Dawkins.

    Is Dawkins perfect? Of course not. He’s human. But I’d say he did a great job with opening minds of non-science people like me to the wonders of science.

    My nominee for the next occupant of the Simonyi Chair would be Neil deGrasse Tyson. Like Sagan, Dawkins made science majestic and awe-inspiring; Tyson makes it exciting.

    And I’m with the other commenters that the first two are seriously warped in their perceptions of Dawkins. Psycho-biology and evolutionary biology are NOT the same thing, so there goes that argument. The God Delusion isn’t pseudo-scientific, unless someone has some real evidence for a supernatural entity that can be verified using the scientific method. I’d like to know how Dawkins is supposed to prove the non-existence of that supernatural being. I mean, let’s prove the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist! If he could prove the nonexistent…well, he wouldn’t be an atheist, would he?

  9. Report this comment

    Ruth Rosin said:

    I was raised as an atheist long ago, and I am very grateful to my parents for that, but I also find nothing original in Dawkins’ “crusade” against religion.

    However, the older I get, the nore doubts I harbor over whether we, atheists, have the moral right to do our outmost to rob religious persons of the comfort and solace they draw from their faith, during their passage through this “glorious vale of tears”, known as human life.

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    Ruth Rosin said:

    Does anyone know how to contact Charles Symoni?

    There are a few things Symoni should know about Richard Dawkins, but apparently does not know yet.

  11. Report this comment

    Ruth Rosin said:

    Response to comment by Marion Delgado (March 21):

    Psychobiology is the best and simplest, one-word term for animal behavior, (including human behavior). Unfortunately the term is not used as often as it should.

    The Greek term “Ethology” literally means the same thing, but is liable to be confusing, because it has been adopted by Lorenz & Tinbergen as the name for their specific general approach to behavior, which is based on the belief in the existence of genetically predetermined behavior, i.e. “instincts”, and is adamantly opposed by those who refuse to accept the existence of “instincts”, or any other genetically predetermined traits, and claim, instead, that all individual traits of all living organisms, develop ontogenetically, (in the individual organism), under inseparable effects of both genes & environment (nature & nurture).

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    Ruth Rosin said:

    Response to comment by MPW (March 24, who considers the first two comments posted here “depressing”, “whiny bleets (bleats) about Dawkins’ outspoken atheism”:

    I am the author of the second post. Except that having been raised as an atheist since long before Dawkins launched his “crusade” against religion, I never did, nor could, criticize him for his atheism. I only noted that I find nothing original about it.

    I certainly did criticize him, instead, for his totally unjustified “crusade” against opponents of the science-fiction story about the “amazing” honeybee “dance language”.

    If MPW does not understand what I am talking about, I urge him to read my comments, (as rosinbio), on this issue on Dawkins’ Official Website!

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