Get beyond the title James

Rather an off topic post, so look away now if you wish:

Listening to Oliver James (a TV psychologist in the UK) promoting his new book on 5Live in the car yesterday I had one of those ‘I’m shouting at the radio’ moments. James asserted that although Dawkins’ Selfish Gene was published in 1976, it was probably not until the greedy eighties that it became popular as it was used to justify self-interest. Huh? Dawkins book is (partly) an attempt to explain how altruism occurs within the process of natural selection. Indeed in his analysis of game theory he sets out how selfish behaviour works to the detriment of society as a whole.

Two possibilities occur to me here – the first is that James is a critic of evolutionary psychology. That’s fair enough, it’s a scientific theory and you can argue with it. But what I think is wrong is to deliberately frame it in a social and moral context that is simply not true.

The second possibility is that James hasn’t read the book and has simply taken the ‘selfish’ in the title and the summary part about natural selection and made the erroneous assumption that the book should have been called ‘In praise of selfishness’ or something. Just in case he’s in any doubt, The Blind Watchmaker is not in fact a textbook for manufacturers of poor quality timepieces.

Given this misreading of Dawkins, you don’t hold out much hope for the rest of the research underpinning his book, do you?

As an aside, my five year old daughter loves evolution. It started with the deceptively simple question ‘where do sharks come from?’. I commenced with a mummy and daddy shark -based explanation, but she cut me short ‘no, before there was a mummy and daddy shark.’ ‘Ahhh, evolution.’ I now operate a martini approach to this, giving the explanation anywhere and anytime. So, for example we will be in a queue at Tesco, clutching a packet of Jammie Dodgers when she will ask, ‘dad, tell me about evolution….’

One Comment

  1. Lara Whitelaw says:

    I just looked up Oliver James on Wikipedia and found a page written by someone with a less than favourable view of Oliver: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_James

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