Welcome to Doctor Anna’s Book Club!

This is the book club for everyone with an interest in science irrespective of background and previous knowledge.

This is a platform where people from all walks of life gather together and discuss influential popular science books and where all questions and queries are welcome.

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Sci Hard and read even harder!
– Doctor Anna

Upcoming book:

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

by Carl Sagan

Get The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark today!

Current book:

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Get your copy of The Selfish Gene today!

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Previous Book:

Read the Book Club’s Review here:
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Once the first post is up for The Demon-Haunted World, I will disable commenting on all chapters of The Selfish Gene as otherwise, the books will mix here in the group.
I will leave commenting open for the summary thread of The Selfish Gene.
shop.annazakrisson.com/?product=the-demon-haunted-world-science-as-a-candle-in-the-dark
- Doctor Anna
...

Book Review thread: The Selfish Gene.
Please, let me know if I can use your review in a blog post and also let me know to which site you would like me to link in your review. Here is the review of the last book so that you know what it will look like:
annazakrisson.com/a-short-history-of-nearly-everything/

Epilogue and final discussion thread of The Selfish Gene.
What did you think of this book?

I discovered that the beloved book that I read as a 20-year old biology student, is not particularly well-written and, at times, even quite poorly written.

I still think that Dawkins' ideas are as spectacular today, as they were back then, but he fails in communicating them in an engaging, as well as sometimes convincing way. The main message is immortal, but chapters like the one on The Battle of the Sexes is terribly outdated and didn't give enough biological evidence to be convincing.

The key chapters are great, most notably the one on memes, and the last chapter discussing the extended phenotype. I just fail to understand why the chapter on memes and human culture did not appear earlier in the book as much misunderstanding of Dawkins' concept could have been avoided (I'm referring to the very critical sociologists who have written books based on misunderstandings of his theories).

His later additions of chapters and re-workings of the book did nothing for the communication of the matter. I almost feel that he is stubborn with an attitude that is quite like this:
"Well, if they don't understand me, they are stupid". Whereas he should be taking their criticism to heart and make sure that some of his revolutionary and important thoughts and theories are presented in a way that produces a fruitful discussion and perhaps, even elicits collaborative efforts between biologists and sociologists, that is sorely needed.
This way, he is only polarizing further.

Still, this book has been an extremely influential book for me, particularly as a young adult.

I would very much like to discuss Dawkins communication strategy in our "science of science communication"-group: Sci Hard & Communicate! Join us!
www.facebook.com/groups/scihardcommunicate/

Your thoughts?

Sci Hard!
- Doctor Anna
...

 

Comment on Facebook

Overall, I liked most of the book, although the writing was tedious. Dawkins does seem "preachy" in the way he presents his theory—I think Anna calls it with the idea that "if you don't understand, it's because you're stupid" may be his real attitude. The thing I've had to keep in mind is that this was a bombshell book in the 70s, from which sprang an immense amount of discussion, revulsion, and other reactions across the board between biologists and sociologists, which can obscure my reactions to the original content because I'm familiar with the counterarguments. I've read other of Dawkins books, which are generally more clearly written, so I know that he can do it, so why not here when he revised the book? Had he clarified his arguments, the book would have been much better. Instead, I think he doubled-down on game theory and neglected other lines of argument that would have been productive and answered many of his critics. The chapter on memes is probably the most important and enduring concept in the book, certainly the one that has held its value most through time. Some of the earlier chapters where he's discussing altruism versus the selfish gene concept were quite interesting. As a theory, I think the selfish gene one started a lot of work to either prove or disprove it, which is the true measure of a seminal idea. <snicker> Try reading E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology if you want another major work that is not that easy to read. 😀 Dawkins definitely tries to make too much of too little subject, and gets way too fascinated by game theory.

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Chapter 13: The Long Reach of the Gene
We are reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

I really liked this chapter, but then, I like The Extended Phenotype as I find the concepts presented in that book exhilarating. In the end, this chapter was just a summary of some of the main points of that book.

What are your thoughts on this chapter? Do you intend to read The Extended Phenotype?

Tomorrow, we do the epilogue and then, it is time to move onto the next book: The Demon-Haunted World

Sci Hard!
- Doctor Anna
...

Chapter 13: The Long Reach of the Gene 
We are reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins 

I really liked this chapter, but then, I like The Extended Phenotype as I find the concepts presented in that book exhilarating. In the end, this chapter was just a summary of some of the main points of that book. 

What are your thoughts on this chapter? Do you intend to read The Extended Phenotype?

Tomorrow, we do the epilogue and then, it is time to move onto the next book: The Demon-Haunted World

Sci Hard!
- Doctor Anna

 

Comment on Facebook

I read the Extended Phenotype before I read the Selfish Gene, and it's a much better book. I feel that Dawkins has been trying too hard in making his case in this book, and ending up with less satisfying work as a result. This chapter was a nice summation, but I took Dawkins at his word when he said that most of this was covered in the Extended Phenotype and that if you wanted that you should just stop reading here. Sigh. This has been a long road, and I'm looking forward to the new book!

This was the clearest and most compelling chapter of the book. It is well served by it comparative brevity as many of the stylistic problems of earlier chapters are less prevalent. I have the core ideas of this book fascinating and compelling and it has inspired me to read The Extended Phenotype, but only on the proviso that it is a stylistically better than the Selfish Gene.

Ugh, fell a tad behind, off to play catch up.

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Chapter 12: Nice Guys Finish First

I had great hopes for this chapter as this is one of the chapters that have been added to the last edition. I assumed that Dawkins would display some of the great penmanship that can be found in some of his other books (or in chapter 11 of this book).

I was very disappointed.

I found the chapter dreary, dragging out the long explanations in absurdum. Not a graph. Not an image to rest the mind on.

I'm not even sure that this game is very useful for human evolutionary biology as a subject.
What does this really show? Is this how a human decides? I might have missed something vital, but I fail to see the relevance of this game to what Dawkins tries to apply it to. Nonetheless, it's an interesting thought-experiment.

I have a feeling he wrote this chapter in an attempt to show that his theory is applicable to humans directed at his sternest opponents: the sociologists.

Dawkins argumentation of the selfish "gene" completely holds, but I feel he gets lost when it comes to human interactions, the "memes" as he himself calls it.

Your thoughts?
Sci Hard!
- Doctor Anna
...

Chapter 12: Nice Guys Finish First

I had great hopes for this chapter as this is one of the chapters that have been added to the last edition. I assumed that Dawkins would display some of the great penmanship that can be found in some of his other books (or in chapter 11 of this book). 

I was very disappointed.

I found the chapter dreary, dragging out the long explanations in absurdum. Not a graph. Not an image to rest the mind on. 

Im not even sure that this game is very useful for human evolutionary biology as a subject. 
What does this really show? Is this how a human decides? I might have missed something vital, but I fail to see the relevance of this game to what Dawkins tries to apply it to. Nonetheless, its an interesting thought-experiment.

I have a feeling he wrote this chapter in an attempt to show that his theory is applicable to humans directed at his sternest opponents: the sociologists. 

Dawkins argumentation of the selfish gene completely holds, but I feel he gets lost when it comes to human interactions, the memes as he himself calls it. 

Your thoughts?
Sci Hard!
- Doctor Anna

 

Comment on Facebook

You've given good voice the problems I've had with Dawkins. His weakness seems to come up when applying his theories and arguments to actual people. He misses something of the human element sometimes.

If ever a chapter needed editing it was this one. On the face of it you would think that a chapter explaining why an organism or gene would act altruistically and yet at the same time would satisfy its own selfish needs would be the cornerstone of this book and so crafted lovingly. But no, what we get is page after page of game theory, not in itself boring, but when strategies are described as Tit for Tat, or two Tits for Tat you end up with so many Tits and Tats that the whole section sails dangerously close to being completely unintelligible. Following on from this we encounter a strange interlude involving association football and the etiquette of trench warfare between some British and German troops during World War One. As well as the distasteful insinuation that the population of an unnamed island off the coast of Ireland are all inbred. It is only in the final death throws of the chapter that Dawkins seems to remember why he writing the chapter in the first place and we get to understand why a bacterium may not want to kill you and that lady vampire bats are quite nice to their friends. All in all is chapter is not one of the great moments in scientific literature which is in itself is a terrible shame as the subject deserved to be treated better.

I agree with you that this was one of the most tedious chapters in the book. I don't feel that the Prisoner's Dilemma applies that much to the way normal humans act and react with one another, because it first assumes a "rational actor" is involved. Most people act out of emotion, not rationality. I got into Chapter 13, and he says that his real "proof" of the selfish gene theory is expressed in his book, "The Extended Phenotype." Dawkins actually says that if you're interested in that proof to quit reading now, so I did. I'm really looking forward to starting our new book.

I just don’t understand all the disappointment in this book. I’m not an intellectual, by any means, and I found it very informative. It could be, that some information was incorrect, and I don’t have the background to see that..

There is too much personification of organisms and too much abstraction from the biological point. It's almost as if he tried to make a very interesting argument with jenga blocks of biology and sociology, a bacterium here, a football game here, a bat here, a house of commons there, a fish over there. I would have built up points on mutualism in biology from the cellular level (mitochondria) up to species etc.., and sociology (potentially such as procreation where having 2 or more partners increases the success of offspring etc).

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Chapter 11: Memes
We are reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

This is by far my favorite chapter in this book. I just wished that it would have come earlier as it would have adjusted my view on the earlier chapters.

In my opinion, this is a very important book, but it is poorly written and Dawkins revolutionary ideas get swamped down by a non-existent narrative. The chapters seem haphazardly put together and in the wrong order.

What are your thoughts on this chapter relating to human culture?

Sci Hard!
- Doctor Anna
...

Chapter 11: Memes
We are reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins 

This is by far my favorite chapter in this book. I just wished that it would have come earlier as it would have adjusted my view on the earlier chapters.

In my opinion, this is a very important book, but it is poorly written and Dawkins revolutionary ideas get swamped down by a non-existent narrative. The chapters seem haphazardly put together and in the wrong order.

What are your thoughts on this chapter relating to human culture?

Sci Hard!
- Doctor Anna

 

Comment on Facebook

I agree that this is the best chapter in the book, and certainly the most important one. In his other chapters, he barely makes his case for selfish gene behavior, but here, he does a good job of presenting the idea and theory of memes—units of cultural replication. Memes pass on ideas, thoughts, and other cultural content such that it is sustained into the future and tends to replicate in other conscious minds. The thing that comes to mind for me as a typical meme is an advertising jingle for some product they're trying to sell. This meme sticks to the mind like glue—I suspect some of you can recite old jingles you grew up with.

I agree that this is by far the most interesting chapter so far in this book. However, at least for me, it is the most controversial as Dawkins introduces the idea of cultural memes alongside genes as a process of replication. As it is probably apparent I have deeply mixed feelings about this idea. I have no intrinsic problem with the concept that an idea, a cultural or even a tune can replicate through communication from person to person. But is it really of the same order of genes replicating themselves through life itself? As I see it Dawkins can make strong case for memes replicating for a few millennia, but genes and life have existed and for millions upon millions of years. Another point that troubles me is the question, does Dawkins actually go nearly far enough in this chapter. Could the case be made that genes and memes actually are the same as Dawkins suggests, but what they replicate is information. Could it be that this book could actually be called the selfish code and that life itself is merely the replication of information through the generations?

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This is Doctor Anna

Doctor Anna is a Ph.D. biologist with degrees from world-renowned institutions such as Cambridge University and Max-Planck Institute. She learnt about business during her time as VP of Content at ZAGENO. She currently resides in Berlin, Germany. Sci Hard!

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