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Professor Richard Dawkins' Seminar at Science World 2011 - Comments

Vicktor's Avatar Comment 1 by Vicktor

I think he should have used the word, "physician".

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 06:37:42 UTC | #858095

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 2 by drumdaddy

This was a fascinating seminar, I'd like to view it in its entirety. Evolutionary processes got us here and essentially sustain us. The body is a marvelous doctor. While not dismissing all effective medical treatments, I wonder how many millions of times that the advice "Take this medication and you should feel better in a few days" could easily have been supplanted by "You should feel better in a few days."

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 07:55:10 UTC | #858117

Andrea Gyori's Avatar Comment 3 by Andrea Gyori

Great seminar indeed! Richard's lectures are getting better and better as time goes by, there must be some evolutionary processes at work ;). Thank you for sharing!

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 08:32:25 UTC | #858122

Vicktor's Avatar Comment 4 by Vicktor

I don't like the spreading of this idea of the "necessary trade-off". Why must something good always or even often come at the expense of something else that is good? Surely as artificial selectors we can overcome this problem nature seemingly has.

It would seem that religion too was quick to pick up on it. You can't get into heaven unless you sacrifice this and do that etc.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 09:11:55 UTC | #858129

Tryphon Tournesol's Avatar Comment 5 by Tryphon Tournesol

Comment 2 by drumdaddy :

This was a fascinating seminar, I'd like to view it in its entirety. Evolutionary processes got us here and essentially sustain us. The body is a marvelous doctor. While not dismissing all effective medical treatments, I wonder how many millions of times that the advice "Take this medication and you should feel better in a few days" could easily have been supplanted by "You should feel better in a few days."

...that's what significant (statistically meaningfull) double blind tests, with control groups are for. To discriminate for effectiveness. And it's not about feeling better, but about being better.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 10:54:18 UTC | #858146

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 6 by Richard Dawkins

Comment 1 by Vicktor :

I think he should have used the word, "physician".

Terminology in the British medical profession is very arcane, and actually rather tiresome. In a British hospital, the word "physicians" would be used to exclude surgeons. Obviously I think surgeons should be Darwinian just as much as physicians, so I definitely wouldn't want to follow your suggestion. On the other hand, surgeons in Britain are not addressed individually as "Doctor". Indeed, male surgeons take pride in dropping the title "Doctor" when Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons entitles them to call themselves "Mister" again. When a nurse refers to "Mister Smith", you can tell from the respectful intonation that this is no ordinary bloke called Mr Smith, but the great MISTER Smith! More confusing still, the plural "Doctors" would be understood in Britain to include surgeons and physicians (who often don't hold a doctor's degree), but NOT PhDs (who do).

I hope you got all that? Never mind, the upshot is that my title, at least in Britain, works.

Richard

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 10:58:37 UTC | #858148

ANTIcarrot's Avatar Comment 7 by ANTIcarrot

Comment 4 by Vicktor : I don't like the spreading of this idea of the "necessary trade-off". Why must something good always or even often come at the expense of something else that is good?

The problem is that nature doesn't care what you like, but as an engineer, I can tell you it's true.

You can have something fast and cheap, but not reliable. You can have something cheap and reliable, but not fast. You can have something fast and reliable, but not cheap.

There are compromises in all human designs. Principly for the purposes of saving money. Because as a rule, if something isn't cheap, it simply doesn't get built.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 11:38:07 UTC | #858154

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 8 by DavidMcC

Comment 7 by ANTIcarrot

Because as a rule, if something isn't cheap, it simply doesn't get built.

A major exception to this rule is the vertebrate eye. Expensive, but your screwed without it! Another is the brain.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 11:50:16 UTC | #858155

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 9 by Peter Grant

Great talk Prof! :D You didn't really say anything new though, I'm surprised doctors don't already take a Darwinian approach to medicine. On the other hand my local GP is a creationist, perhaps I should give him that book.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 12:34:19 UTC | #858164

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 10 by Richard Dawkins

Comment 9 by Peter Grant :

Great talk Prof! :D You didn't really say anything new though, I'm surprised doctors don't already take a Darwinian approach to medicine. On the other hand my local GP is a creationist, perhaps I should give him that book.

Do you mean your GP is a young earth creationist, who believes the world is less than ten thousand years old? If that is the case, you should get another doctor. Anyone with such a fragile grasp on reality is not to be trusted with your life.

Richard

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 13:52:15 UTC | #858189

keith54's Avatar Comment 11 by keith54

A typically lucid presentation by Richard Dawkins on his favourite and best subject. The book (Why we get sick/ evolution and healing/Darwinian medicine) looks interesting as well.

It's important to note (and the book makes this clear) that so-called proximate and evolutionary approaches to medicine are mostly complementary in that they answer different questions. For instance the proximate approach seeks to determine the effects of eating fatty foods on heart disease. The evolutionary approach asks why we are disposed to crave fatty foods even though they are bad for us (in excess).

There has been some work done already Darwinian medicine e.g. Mel Greaves on cancer.

A good summary of this can be found at http://myweb.lmu.edu/tshanahan/DarMed.html

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 15:37:44 UTC | #858231

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 12 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 6 by Richard Dawkins

I shall not confuse the matter further by throwing in Consultant, who are the senior Doctor and usually Misters, unless they are Professors, who are teaching Doctors or Consultants, but sometimes like to remain Misters......House officers, registrars, general practitioners are all Doctors. All Professors are Doctors, but not all Doctors are Professors. Right, I'll stop.

Great presentation, Sir.....which may be a Knight, an officer, or courtesy title, or as a form of address from a merchant to a customer, but not always. A mark of respect on this occasion.

Right, sorry, I'm really away this time.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 15:46:22 UTC | #858237

wald0h's Avatar Comment 13 by wald0h

I don't really like when people complain that nothing "new" was said, especially when it comes to lectures or seminars about Darwin/evolution/natural selection.

Isn't that the point? Evolution by natural selection is pretty old. Like... beginning of the universe old. And we understand it pretty well (well lots of people do at least) The purpose of this seminar seemed to be to get doctors (physicians, whatever) to understand and practice by an idea that's essentially as old as time. It wasn't a press conference on a new discovery, you shouldn't expect some new breakthrough in our understanding of evolution.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 15:48:51 UTC | #858239

Tryphon Tournesol's Avatar Comment 14 by Tryphon Tournesol

Comment 10 by Richard Dawkins :

Comment 9 by Peter Grant :

Great talk Prof! :D You didn't really say anything new though, I'm surprised doctors don't already take a Darwinian approach to medicine. On the other hand my local GP is a creationist, perhaps I should give him that book.

Do you mean your GP is a young earth creationist, who believes the world is less than ten thousand years old? If that is the case, you should get another doctor. Anyone with such a fragile grasp on reality is not to be trusted with your life.

Richard

Do you mean that? I got the idea that, in your lecture, you meant to say that there is an additional angle -the evolutionary one- to medical diagnoses? To make already good doctors even better..

Like a (extra) tool, derived from science, for someone who's basically not a scientist but an artisan in bodily matters. For comparison: I've got several employees with no scientific background in electrotechnical engineering and/or physics (only derived practical skills) , nor are they too philosophical about the theories behind their practises, but they're still very efficient appliers of the underlying science..

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 16:01:43 UTC | #858244

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 15 by Peter Grant

Comment 10 by Richard Dawkins

Do you mean your GP is a young earth creationist, who believes the world is less than ten thousand years old? If that is the case, you should get another doctor. Anyone with such a fragile grasp on reality is not to be trusted with your life.

Richard

Not entirely sure, he seems to doubt evolution and global warming, I only go there for sick notes. I know for sure the chemist where I fill my prescriptions is one though, he keeps trying to get me to read creationist "literature". South Africa is still depressingly religious :(

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 17:01:50 UTC | #858278

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 16 by Peter Grant

Comment 13 by wald0h

I don't really like when people complain that nothing "new" was said, especially when it comes to lectures or seminars about Darwin/evolution/natural selection.

I wasn't complaining that nothing new was said, more complaining that it has to be re-stated as "new". Prof Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene quite a while back, why haven't they read it yet? The question isn't "Should doctors be Darwinian?" it's "Why aren't doctors more Darwinian already?" Medicine is a field of biology after all and biology doesn't make any sense except in the light of evolution.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 17:16:15 UTC | #858285

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 17 by InYourFaceNewYorker

This was a really good lecture. It's a travesty that one is not required to take courses in evolution when in medical school.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 17:47:56 UTC | #858300

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 18 by Peter Grant

Comment 17 by InYourFaceNewYorker

It's a travesty that one is not required to take courses in evolution when in medical school.

What, seriously? Guess that explains a lot...

Prof, I think you were a bit too respectful in that talk, this issue calls for some of that stridency you're so famous for :D

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 18:14:58 UTC | #858315

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 19 by All About Meme

This video was superb and immensely enjoyable. My thanks to the creative squad who produced it.

The star of this video quite often complains about publisher control of book titles in a sardonic fashion, and he always makes a compelling (and humorous) case. One could almost envision an entire stand-up comedy routine regarding the ‘gauntlet of negotiations’ authors must endure, when their books have been slated for publication. (I'll work on it.)

Not to bash publishers unduly, but to me the whole idea seems a bit silly. Who better than the author is in a position to determine a book’s title? This is not to say I don’t understand why publishers may disregard a particular author’s suggestion for a title – I most certainly do. They are marketing a product, after all. But doesn’t this presume the ridiculous notion that most authors are not in fact deeply interested in creating million-copy bestsellers? If these publishing executives (or marketeers, if you will) were capable of writing bestselling books themselves, one would assume they would simply do it, and then quit their publishing gigs and retire to Florida to write their next one.

To me this suggests that a book’s title is not truly all that important. Perhaps the title of a book is not really the critical determining factor in its success, in terms of sales. After all, how many movies have you seen merely because you were intrigued by the movie’s title, even if it was emblazoned for weeks on a neon-lit theater marquee? Surely most people demand considerably more information about a movie before dropping ten bucks on it. I know I do. And film critics like Roger Ebert have made a career on people just like me.

This rant is fun, so allow me to add one more thing to it. What EVIDENCE could publishers possibly have to support the changing of any particular book’s title? Do they run double-blind studies on prospective audiences?

Publisher: Here you are, Sir. Please read this book and let me know if you like it.
Reader: Okay. What is it called, by the way?
Publisher: It has no title yet. That is the purpose of this study.

-- Two days later --

Publisher: Well, what do you think? Was it a good read?.
Reader: Yes, it was. It was one of the better books I’ve read in this genre, quite honestly.
Publisher: Excellent. We’re planning to call it “A Baboon and His Barbie Doll”.
Reader: What? I would never in a million years buy such garbage.
Publisher: How about “Swinging Primate Passion Pendulums”?
Reader: Now you’re talking to me. Do you take VISA?

Perhaps placing great marketing importance on book titles is becoming a dinosaur in the age of Amazon.com; an artifact stemming from the days when most people browsed bookstore aisles on foot in search of something to read. The titles were the only things available to catch a buyer’s eye, as the covers themselves were obscured from view by economic constraints which required stacking the most books possible on a limited number of shelves. The last book I remember buying in such a manner, meaning that I reached for it based solely upon its title alone, was The Pattern of Evolution by Niles Eldredge, and this event occurred somewhere around the year 2004. Oddly enough, Eldredge’s book was one of the pivotal factors that eventually led me to Richard’s books and hence his website. You’ll understand my hesitation in thanking God for this fortuitous happenstance in my life.

To close, if most book-buying occurs via the internet in the future, I would expect the importance of a book’s title – at least in terms of its marketing appeal – to diminish greatly, because so much more information about the book’s content is now readily available at the click of a mouse button.

But then Richard would have to find a new schtick to open his lectures with...

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 18:48:32 UTC | #858328

plasma-engineer's Avatar Comment 20 by plasma-engineer

Generally familiar and yet absolutely fascinating stuff and I enjoyed it a lot - except the gaps between the videos. I found the Thermo (aka Fischer Scientific, part of Thermo) adverts so irritating that I would have given up for any lesser speaker than RD.

But I should not be surprised. Thermo was the company that took over a highly respected world leader in a specialised technology - namely Vacuum Generators (universally known as VG) - and proceeded to expect the world to forget that world-leading brand and think of Thermo. Even now, many years later, everyone in the vacuum industry remembers the name VG and Thermo has finally noticed and started to recant. In the meantime they have forgotten how to achieve the quality that we used to expect from VG.

So much for the morons who think that brands can be manipulated, while forgetting that their customers like familiarity and value quality. This is a classic case of a company that went from 'market leader' to 'led by marketing' and that feature shows in their editing of this video.

Sorry for the rant. The talk was GREAT!

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 20:56:55 UTC | #858376

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 21 by Premiseless

A fascinating set of ideas presented par excellence about natural selections thrifty dealings with genetic reproductions fine tunings for survival and proliferation .

It's to be intriguing, to me at any rate, to observe how humanity does the same with ideas and whether the parasites on human consciousness become as adequately identified by it as such by natural selections rigorous treatments of all that is too good for its own good - a kinda moral high ground delusional bubble ipso facto?

Sat, 06 Aug 2011 03:41:48 UTC | #858493

HappyPrimate's Avatar Comment 22 by HappyPrimate

Loved this talk. As someone suffering at this moment with lower back pain, I sorely wish we humans had evolved a better spinal structure. Of course, I didn't have these problems when I was younger, during my reproductive years, but only developed this ailment now at age 59.

Sat, 06 Aug 2011 15:58:30 UTC | #858669

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 23 by Nunbeliever

To Richard Dawkins:

Anyone with such a fragile grasp on reality is not to be trusted with your life.

I think that's a bit unfair. My uncle is a pediatrician and is as far as I know a very good physician. Still, he is also a devout christian and for example does not accept the theory of evolution. As you have pointed out yourself many times our ability of mental compartmentalizing is just astonishing. You can have people with the most ridiculous ideas who in other areas of life are completely rational. Francis Collins for example might accept the theory of evolution (with a little help of his friend god) and he might not be a young earth creationist either. Still he holds some pretty ridiculous ideas and would accrording to your logic not be suitable as a physician either. In all honesty I think it's a bit unfair to single out the religious in this regard. I think most of us hold pretty strange ideas once in a while. They might not be as deeply rooted as religious ideas but nonetheless it shows how we all at one point or another seem to compartmentalize seemingly contradictory ideas. I know people who I would generally describe as rational and intelligent people but who might be climate deniers or believe in weird conspiracy theories. I know people who gamble or play poker and many tend to become more or less superstistious in ways that actually affect their playing. Still, these people are perfectly rational in general.

Sat, 06 Aug 2011 16:08:31 UTC | #858672

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

I think that's a bit unfair.

Isn't it time we were more unfair? Should we really tolerate wilful ignorance or belief in conspiracies, or should we point out that such attitudes and beliefs are a form of self-indulgence that is simply not acceptable in people who should be using the full power of science to help others?

I'm afraid that my view is that such ignorance and irrationality is not just mistaken, but actively immoral. If someone is a doctor it is their moral duty to avoid delusion.

It's all very well to insist that someone is good at what they do, but the character flaw of someone who is educated but also a creationist means that they are a ticking bomb - there is no telling when their delusion will interfere with other areas of life, and in the case of a doctor, do so dangerously.

Sat, 06 Aug 2011 17:19:19 UTC | #858689

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 25 by Nunbeliever

To Steve Zara:

It's all very well to insist that someone is good at what they do, but the character flaw of someone who is educated but also a creationist means that they are a ticking bomb - there is no telling when their delusion will interfere with other areas of life, and in the case of a doctor, do so dangerously.

Hehe... well, it's not really my job to defend creationists ;-) I dislike their ignorance as much as you do. Still, the reality seems to be that people have an incredible ability to compartmentalize their minds. This is very important when we talk about religious people. Yes, as people have pointed out many times on these very pages a single person who believed that it's possible to be resurrected from the dead outside of a religious framework would be considered crazy and not to be trusted with important tasks in society in general. And for good reasons too. It's very tempting to draw the conclusion that since a single person would be considered crazy for having such beliefs religious people who have seemingly equally crazy ideas deserve the same amount suspicion. They ought to be regarded as madmen, not to be trusted. However tempting, that would in my opinion be a big mistake. That would be to ignore how religions really work and ignore important aspects of the human mind. I am concerned by creationist doctors, but mainly from a moral point of view. I have not seen any real evidence that suggests creationists are more incompetent than non-creationists. Yes, I think they are unbelievably ignorant and I honestly don't understand how they are able to hold so many utterly contradictory ideas in their heads without going insane. But, apparently most people are capable of doing exactly that. To some extent I am pretty sure that includes all of us. I am in no sense a perfectly rational being and I most likely hold contradictory ideas without even being aware of them all the time. Yes, creationists are in a whole other league of course. But, I think this property is true for us all. It's just that it becomes painstakingly obvious when you have doctors who are also creationists.

I mean, what you are actually saying is that if a person holds crazy beliefs he is not to be trusted at all. In that case no christian doctors should be trusted with our lives. All christians (at least if you define christians in any meaningful sense) hold beliefs that are utterly crazy. Let's face it, even moderate christians hold stupid belief that would be considered crazy if they weren't expressed within a religious framework. I am not saying that a religious person can be unfit to do certain tasks. Perhaps this particular doctor is really terrible and say it really is because of his religious beliefs. I am not arguing that this is not possible. I am just saying that we should not automatically label a doctor incompetent because this person holds some crazy beliefs. There are countless examples of people who are very competent regardless of their religious beliefs. Francis Collins is just one. I am not saying that creationism is not a problem from a medical perspective. Of course it's a problem. But more from a moral and social perspective. If the society in general is influenced by religious ideas scientific progress might be in danger. Certain methods of treatment might be banned for religious reasons instead of scientific. There are many dangers with religious ideas and creationism from a medical perspective. But, to by default label a doctor incompetent just because that person holds certain religious beliefs is in my opinion not rational. As said earlier, it's very tempting to draw that conclusion but so far I really have not seen any real evidence that would suggest such a conclusion is true. If we like to call ourselves skeptics then we have to be able to accept the reality as it is, not as we would like it to be. And the reality seems to be that people with quite extraordinary religious beliefs seems capable of compartmentalizing these ideas. If that was not the case, how on earth could a country like USA even function in first place. Yes, most people are religious. A minority is very religious. Still, in most situations they are really quite like you and I. Their religious alter-ego only comes out in certain situations. When triggered by emotional or certain specific social cues.

Sun, 07 Aug 2011 00:23:17 UTC | #858767

BloodywombatTSI's Avatar Comment 26 by BloodywombatTSI

I understand what you are saying Nunbeliever and it makes sense to me. On the other hand, another facet to that kind of situation that disturbs me is that religious doctors, trusted by their patients, lend credence to creationist ideas. It's not just that, but hospitals are funded by religious institutions and titled after religious ideas which you all know. I was just watching "Lincoln Lawyer" and in that movie a hospital was named White Memorial Adventist Hosptial or something to that affect. My creationist parents of course noticed this as it embodies our (their actually) religion and seemed amused. I wasn't, but kept my mouth shut and just rolled my eyes in the darkness of the room. They assumed White was in reference to Ellen G White which makes sense to me. Anyone ever heard of her? My parents seem convinced she's prophesied a bunch of historical events, like 9/11 and a bunch of other stuff. Anyway, sorry for the small tangent, but that's what bothers me, is that doctors who believe this stuff send a bad message. Of course I don't know what could be done about that whole situation, but it is disturbing to me. I guess nothing but education and social change. But it does I think possibly inspire a good reason not to use those doctors for reasons other than they can't be trusted with your life. Besides, it's disturbs me when my doctor starts a diagnosis with "You see, God made us so that when our bodies...." bla, bla, bla. :)

Sun, 07 Aug 2011 05:07:17 UTC | #858796

Sample's Avatar Comment 27 by Sample

Anyone with such a fragile grasp on reality is not to be trusted with your life. (Richard)

I agree. Not long after I found out that my dentist was an active Mormon, I knew I wouldn't be his client for long. Fortunately, he made my decision to fire him easier by his actions. One, he was altogether unhelpful in fighting the anti-fluoridation poison mongers in Alaska by refusing to join the local scientific coalition and two, he didn't come off as being professionally dedicated to his trade when I was in his chair.

I got the distinct feeling that subconsciously he might have thought, "just a few more decades and I can stop looking at crooked chompers and get on with being a god on my own planet."

Mike

P.S. Nice talk.

Sun, 07 Aug 2011 05:19:31 UTC | #858798

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 28 by Steve Zara

Comment 25 by Nunbeliever

I mean, what you are actually saying is that if a person holds crazy beliefs he is not to be trusted at all.

I don't think that's quite what I mean. I think it's because in the case of medicine, I would expect someone to have a good understanding and acceptance of science, not just be able to diagnose and prescribe. I think that is increasingly important because both science and medicine are changing so fast.

Someone who is a creationist rejects the core of science, and is left cherry-picking bits here and there. Personally, I would have serious worries about being treated by such a person.

Regarding Christianity, it's a mainstream belief, and isn't there some sort of psychological rule that if enough people believe something, you can't call them mad? Deluded, but not mad? :)

Sun, 07 Aug 2011 05:42:41 UTC | #858801

Tryphon Tournesol's Avatar Comment 29 by Tryphon Tournesol

Comment 28 by Steve Zara :

Comment 25 by Nunbeliever

I mean, what you are actually saying is that if a person holds crazy beliefs he is not to be trusted at all.

I don't think that's quite what I mean. I think it's because in the case of medicine, I would expect someone to have a good understanding and acceptance of science, not just be able to diagnose and prescribe. I think that is increasingly important because both science and medicine are changing so fast.

Someone who is a creationist rejects the core of science, and is left cherry-picking bits here and there. Personally, I would have serious worries about being treated by such a person.

Regarding Christianity, it's a mainstream belief, and isn't there some sort of psychological rule that if enough people believe something, you can't call them mad? Deluded, but not mad? :)

As Nunbeliever said, that inclination/ability to compartmentalize will probably make them stick to the facts when treating a patient. And at the same time cherry-pick from their holy book to make in compatible with the science they -to good effect- apply . Think of god guided evolution (even the pope does that :)). There's no reason to assume a priori that applied science will be affected by religious beliefs.

And, what should we do with doctors that also prescribe homeopathic 'cures' (even if only for an expected placebo effect)? With faithfull engineers and workers designing airplanes?

I'm not at al for delusional beliefs, and I'm saying nothing for them. But at the same time we should be reasonable and see that -while there is a certain risk- delusions don't automatically lead to disaster in the professional field of any science derived job. In politics that's an entirely different matter, there Steve's bomb does tick indeed... no, make that bombs and tick and have exploded :(

Sun, 07 Aug 2011 08:35:59 UTC | #858812

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 30 by Peter Grant

Comment 29 by Tryphon Tournesol

And, what should we do with doctors that also prescribe homeopathic 'cures'?

Take away their licences, or better yet don't give such idiots medical degrees in the first place.

Sun, 07 Aug 2011 09:57:16 UTC | #858824