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Twitter piles on Richard Dawkins over Eugenics tweet

The eminent expert in communicating science botches his explanation.


Twitter may not be the best medium for explaining the science of eugenics to a wary public, as the sometime Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford, Richard Dawkins, discovered this week.

Professor Dawkins, now aged 78, renowned as an evolutionary biologist and as the author of best-sellers about genetics and atheism, most recently Outgrowing God, chose to tweet about eugenics. This may have been prompted by a Twitter storm about back room boys at 10 Downing Street (of which more below). His words were not calibrated to endear him to the public:

Reactions? They ranged from “You absolute pin-headed simpleton” to “How’d the application of this play out in 1940s Europe?” to “The thing about people who believe in eugenics is that they always believe themselves to be the superior kind of human. No-one ever thinks that it could make people like them obsolete”.

Dawkins had to back-pedal very quickly to explain himself:

Dawkins was clearly not playing in the First Division this week. Professors in the Simonyi chair are supposed to make the public sympathetic to science, as its website explains:

The task of communicating science to the layman is not a simple one. In particular it is imperative for the post holder to avoid oversimplifying ideas, and presenting exaggerated claims. The limits of current scientific knowledge should always be made clear to the public.

Even scientists were exasperated. Dave Curtis, the editor of Annals of Human Genetics (a journal which was once titled Annals of Eugenics), posted a long Twitter thread explaining why humans cannot be bred like cattle and roses, contra Professor Dawkins. First, “humans have long generational times and small numbers of offspring. This would make any selective breeding process extremely slow”. Second, humans live in very different environments and most of the variation in their traits is due to the environment. It would be very difficult to identify individuals with ideal traits.

“We should bear in mind,” he adds, “that harsh selection pressures have been acting on humans up to the present and that there may be very little scope for overall improvement. In any event, we can confidently say that selective breeding to improve desirable traits is not practicable.”

The long and the short of the matter, in Dr Curtis’s opinion, is this: “People who support eugenics initiatives are evil racists. Also, modern genetic research shows that eugenics would not work.”

It’s surprising that Professor Dawkins thought that his puff for human eugenics would be applauded. James Watson, who won Nobel Prize in 1962 for discovering DNA, has become a non-person after expressing eugenicist opinions which were interpreted as racist.

Just a whiff of eugenics was enough to force the resignation of one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advisors recently. Opposition research on Andrew Sabisky, a political “contractor” at 10 Downing Street, uncovered six-year-old opinions which were quickly denounced as eugenic and racist.

For example, in a comment on a 2014 blog post made by a user called “Andrew Sabisky”, it was suggested that compulsory contraception could eliminate a “permanent underclass”. It read: “One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty.”

Having used internet history to make Sabisksy history, the media moved on to savaging Dominic Cummings, a key advisor to the PM who had hired Sabisky . A blog post from 2014 contained ideas which were described as eugenic. He suggested that the UK’s National Health Service IVF service should offer human eggs sorted by IQ to make a level playing field for rich and poor parents who want babies with a high IQ.

Prof Richard Ashcroft, a medical ethicist at City University, told The Guardian that this was nonsense: “This idea that we can use biological selection to improve individuals and society, and that the state through the NHS, should facilitate this, really is pure eugenics.”

The fracas demonstrates the schizophrenic attitude of the public towards eugenics. On the one hand, the word “eugenics” evokes racism and Nazism. It is this sense which has been weaponized to undermine the new PM. On the other hand, parents who want perfect children are encouraged to eliminate “defective” embryos. The media happily provides a platform for bioethics to promote such ideas. Another Oxford professor, Julian Savulescu has often explained why he supports eugenics:

“We practise eugenics when we screen for Down’s syndrome, and other chromosomal or genetic abnormalities. The reason we don’t define that sort of thing as ‘eugenics’, as the Nazis did, is because it’s based on choice. It’s about enhancing people’s freedom rather than reducing it.”

COLUMN BY

MICHAEL COOK

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge.

FOR MORE ARTICLE ON EUGENICS CLICK HERE.

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EDITORS NOTE: This MercatorNet column is republished with permission. © All rights reserved.

Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins slam Left for giving Islam “free pass” despite Muslim terrorism

What is noteworthy about this is how selective and one-sided Maher and Dawkins are. They’re all upset about the Marxist anti-Semite Maryam Namazie being banned from speaking at a university because of her views on Islam, but have never said a word while for years Pamela Geller and I and others who tell the same truths about Islam that Namazie tells (and more consistently than she does because we do not support the “Palestinian” jihad as she does) have received the same treatment from universities and other venues. Maher and Dawkins would never think of speaking out on our behalf because they would likely think of us as “right-wing bigots” — as Sam Harris last year dismissed critics of jihad terror besides himself and his friends as “fascists.”

What Maher, Dawkins and Harris don’t seem to realize is that they only think of us as “fascists” because the same Leftist/Islamic supremacist smear machine (including their pal Namazie) that is now going after them for their “bigotry” has for years defamed us in exactly the same way, for saying essentially the same things they do about Islam. We are “right-wing” because the smear machine has called us “right-wing” for years — when I have never taken a public position on anyissue other than those involving jihad and Sharia, and the claim that defending free societies against jihad terror and Islamic supremacism is a right-wing issue, or constitutes “fascism,” is a media fiction.

I expect that Maher, Dawkins, and Harris wouldn’t be caught dead in the company of Pamela Geller or me, even though we note the same truths they do and defend the same freedoms they’re defending. That is testimony only to the effectiveness of the defamation campaign that has now turned against them, for the same reason its organizers targeted us. And as long as their indignation about the threat to the freedom of speech and the hollow truncheon of the “Islamophobia” charge remains restricted only to those on the Left, it remains inconsistent and hypocritical.

“Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins Slam Liberals for Giving Islam ‘Free Pass’ Despite Link to Terrorism,” by Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post, October 5, 2015:

Two of the most famous atheists in the world, HBO host Bill Maher and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, slammed liberals who they say are giving Islam a “free pass,” despite the human rights abuses being committed in Muslim countries and by Islamic extremist groups around the world today.

Dawkins was a guest on Maher’s “Real Time” on Friday, where Maher said it is “ridiculous” that some make out Muslims to be a “protected species.”

Dawkins added that people sometimes believe that those criticizing Muslims are racists.

Maher and Dawkins both took aim at liberals they said would shoot down free speech in order to protect Muslim sensitivities. Dawkins pointed out the case of Warwick University’s students’ union declining atheist and critic of extremist Islam Maryam Namazie the opportunity to speak at the school in October, out of fear of offending the religion.

Maher has himself faced push-back for his own university appearances, with University of California at Berkeley students starting a petition last year seeking to bar the HBO host from speaking at 2014’s fall commencement ceremony, due to his “racist” views on Muslims.

“If you can’t speak your mind at a university campus, where can you? I mean that’s what universities are about. It’s about free speech,” Dawkins said.

“So they think that if you you criticize Islam you’re being racist and you’re absolutely right that the regressive [liberals] give a free pass to Islam,” the atheist author continued. “They’re kind of right about everything else, I mean, they’re right about misogyny and all of the other good things. But in the case of Islam, it just gets a free pass and I think it is because of the terror of being thought racist.”

Maher added that those who criticize Islam are also called “Islamophobes,” which he said was a “silly word that means nothing.”

Maher, Dawkins, and other atheist authors, such as Sam Harris, have been criticized by religious commentators, such as Reza Aslan, for blaming Islam for the rise of terrorism….

Aslan added that such anti-theists get their ideas “from the most simplistic, the most unsophisticated and the most knee-jerk reaction to the very real problem of religious violence around the world,” and argued that it is “nothing less than idiotic to blame religion for religious violence without recognizing the multiple factors that are involved in violence of any sort.”

“Multiple factors” are “involved in violence of any sort.” This from a man who accused Pamela Geller and me of complicity in a murder that was initially blamed on “Islamophobia” but that turned out to be an Islamic honor killing. Aslan, of course, refused to retract.

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