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The Selfish Gene at 40: Richard Dawkins Reflects On His Landmark Work in Skeptical Inquirer

February 15, 2017

PLUS: The Return of “The Amazing Randi” to the Magazine He Helped Launch

With his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins revolutionized the modern understanding of evolution by natural selection and sparked a passion for science in millions of readers across generations. Forty years later, Dawkins revisits his milestone work in Skeptical Inquirer, and tells of how much more has been learned from looking at life from the “gene’s-eye-view.”

Dawkins first expresses his own surprise at the longevity of The Selfish Gene, writing, “So many exciting things are fast happening in the world of genomics, it would seem almost inevitable—even tantalizing—that a book with the word ‘gene’ in the title would, forty years on, need drastic revision if not outright discarding.” The prospect is tantalizing, he says, because science thrives on the refutation of old ideas in the face of new, more convincing evidence. “I have never heard of a scientist being maligned as a flip-flopper,” he says.

Though the central message of his book has held true over the decades, it has also opened up rich new avenues of study and understanding. “The gene’s eye view of life,” he says, “…illuminates the deep past, in ways of which I had no inkling when I first wrote The Selfish Gene.” He even cops to some of the trouble his choice of title has caused, now conceding, “The Cooperative Gene would have been an equally appropriate title for this book, and the book itself would not have changed at all.”

As part of Skeptical Inquirer’s expansive coverage of the latest CSICon skeptics’ conference, held this past October in Las Vegas, this issue includes the first part of an on-stage interview with the amazing James Randi by Skeptical Inquirer Editor Kendrick Frazier. The veteran illusionist and skeptic pioneer recalls some of the formative moments of his past and the early days of the skeptic movement.

PLUS: Randi himself returns to Skeptical Inquirer with a new regular column, this issue focusing on the dangers of the anti-vaccine movement and misinformation about autism.

Also in this issue: Former Center for Inquiry president Ronald Lindsay lays out a clear case for the necessity of skeptical activism, making a key distinction of claims that scientists understand to be settled, such as climate change or even the existence of ghosts, but the public still believes to be controversial.

The March/April 2017 issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.