A Dawkins Gaffe on Eugenics?

Was it Haldane or Mueller that showed eugenics would not in fact work?

Would you consider genetic counseling to be a form of eugenics? My 23&Me results elevated my awareness of funny business in the genes. My procreation is a done deal, but others might be making such decisions with recessives in mind. This may seem innocuous, but as the technology advances further, one can expect social response. Eugenics can be driven as much by personal choices as by some Orwellian government, despite the sinister connotations of the word. It is hard to know where this is going to lead us, but I believe we have already taken the first steps.


So why would it not work? I’m with Jerry Coyne on this one, the only real “gaffe” appears to be Dawkins not having anticipated that some people confuse an acknowledgement of what CAN be done, with the claim that it SHOULD be done.


What exactly is meant by “work”? My husband and I are both Ashkenazi Jews and were tested for the Tay Sachs gene before marrying. In fact, our Rabbi insisted on it. Such screening is common in Jewish communities, yet the gene persists. On the other hand, while it is true that dog breeds have been developed for certain traits, each breed is prone to health problems . Common Health Problems for Popular Dog Breeds. Selective breeding has shortened the life span of dogs.
I am reminded of the story, probably apochryphal, about Oscar Wilde who was approached by a beautiful woman who wanted to bear his child. As the story goes, she said “the child will look like me and have your brains,”. To which he responded, "but what if the child looks like me and had your brains.’


I also agree with Coyne on this.

Of course, whether it would work depends on what you mean by “would work”. I take Dawkins as being correct, that it would work in the sense that Dawkins intended. But Dawkins was also clear enough that he was opposed to eugenics.

The real mistake by Dawkins was to blurt something out on Twitter, without first thinking about how people would interpret it. It’s not the first time that he has made such a mistake.

What does “work” mean here? All Dawkins appears to have been saying is that artificial selection is possible in a human population just as in a cow or dog population. Whether that selection would produce better people depends on defining “better” in terms of whatever traits you’re selecting for.

Is that what eugenics was? Pretty sure it wasn’t. There is even a forum topic here explaining this…

It would be good for you to practice being less cryptic and more forthcoming. Start here. Now.

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I guess some people think it means it is possible to select for all traits simultaneously and produce some sort of superhuman that is in all imaginable respects superior by whatever measure you might care about. For that idea it probably is impossible since there’s probably going to be many both epistatic and pleiotropic effects between genes where selection for one thing works against another.

Unless he was aware of what the reaction would be and either welcomed the controversy or didn’t care. He’s not new to social media or related controversy, so I would guess something in this vein is pretty likely. Unless it was a senior moment, but he still has seemed lucid enough when I’ve heard him lately.

What we all need to remember is that our words, especially in public discourse, mean more than just their literal meaning. Even if what you said is strictly speaking, true, when you say something in public as a public figure, you’ve already made the conscious choice to say that particular true thing instead of another true thing. For example, if I keep saying “It would be possible to kill person X using methods A, B, C, but of course I would NEVER endorse something horrible like that!!” then Person X would be justified in feeling threatened by my words, even if technically I didn’t endorse killing him.


I simple search of the site would reveal this: Darwinism and Eugenics?

That’s better, but not all that good. Best would be to explain what you mean; and it could have been done briefly.

I think you’re trying to say that since there is a mutation rate, you can’t eliminate deleterious mutations entirely. True, but it doesn’t seem an argument that eugenics doesn’t work. Of course, we still don’t know what “work” means.

I was annoyed and frustrated by Dawkins’ conduct and I think he acts like an ass on Twitter much too often. But I think you have asked the question that would help make a little sense of this mess, because I think that Dawkins was factually right about “eugenics can work” if all he meant was “phenotypic change brought about by selective reproduction.” But I don’t think that’s what is meant by “eugenics” and that’s why IMO his comments were so ill conceived. And I am personally sick of tone-deaf old white dudes hectoring the world about “science” vs “ideology.” Read the room, old crank.


So you think he got the definition of “eugenics” wrong? What is the correct definition? I presume Dawkins’s definition is “artificial selection practiced on humans”, and that his definition of “work” would be “result in change in allele frequencies and mean phenotype”.

This discussion looks like it is distilling into a contention of denotation vs connotation.

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Probably but I don’t care. Dictionary explorations don’t interest me.

What do you think is meant by “eugenics”?

I honestly wasn’t aware of his Twitter behavior, but he has followed up the induced Twitter-storm by a tweet discussing human meat.


Apparently, this wasn’t even the first Twitter foray into the “human meat” topic since CMI wrote an article on it in 2018 (Why does Richard Dawkins want to eat human meat? - creation.com).

Some people just need to put the phone down…

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Wow that has to be the most cogent article I’ve ever read on creation.com.